Many consumers are hesitant about purchasing and cooking whole turkeys because of the fear of improper handling and pathogens.

The United State Department of Agriculture recently changed regulations concerning poultry labeling, such as "Frozen" or "Fresh." The USDA classifies birds held at zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower as "Frozen," and most found in grocery stores under this label have been flash frozen and held at the correct temperature until they are delivered to the store. "Fresh" birds are those stored at 26 degrees Fahrenheit or above; however, these turkeys have been proven to have a significantly higher risk of quality concerns, according to Norbest, Inc., the largest independent turkey marketing cooperative worldwide.

Safe turkey handling is key to avoiding illnesses. The USDA instructs consumers to:

--Keep the turkey refrigerated or frozen.

--Only thaw turkey in the refrigerator or microwave.

--Keep raw poultry separate from other foods.

--Thoroughly wash working surfaces, including cutting boards, utensils, and hands following handling of raw poultry.

--Cook turkey and other poultry thoroughly.

--Refrigerate leftovers within two hours.

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