Think safety when roasting holiday turkey

Margaret Prouse
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One week from today, the majority of Island families will be sharing one basic menu that includes roast turkey, dressing, gravy and mashed potatoes.

For most people, roasting a turkey is an unfamiliar, once-a-year endeavour. Here is a bit of information, much of it taken from P.E.I. Home Economics Association’s Turkey Time brochure, to help you prepare, serve and store turkey safely.

If you are beginning with a frozen turkey, think ahead and start defrosting it before Christmas Day. It’s risky, and not recommended, to leave a turkey on the counter at room temperature to defrost.

The safest method is to place the turkey, in its original wrapper, on a tray in the refrigerator, and let it defrost there.

Plan on 5 hours/pound, or approximately 10 hours/kilogram when using this method. A 20-pound turkey would take 100 hours, or a little more than 4 days to defrost.

If your refrigerator is crammed full, you can defrost a turkey by placing it, in the original plastic wrapping, in a pan full of cold water.

The water should be cold, not warm, and should completely cover the turkey. Change the water every hour, and expect it to take about 1 hour per pound of turkey, or 2 hours per kilogram. Because you need to change the water every hour, this method works best for smaller turkeys.

Keep the defrosted turkey refrigerated until you are ready to stuff and roast it.

When handling turkey, it’s important to keep yourself and your surroundings clean. Wash your hands well in hot soapy water before and after handling raw turkey.

Do not let the raw turkey or its juices touch other foods, either in the refrigerator or out of it. That’s the reason for placing the turkey on a tray in the fridge, rather than just putting it directly on a shelf.

Any utensils, cookware, dishes and cutlery, sinks and counters that are in contact with the turkey should be washed with hot soapy water, rinsed with clean water, and then sanitized by spraying or wiping with a solution made by adding one capful of chlorine bleach to a sinkful of warm water, and allowing to air dry.

One thing that has changed with time is the recommendation about whether to rinse the inside and outside surfaces of the turkey before roasting it. Although people used to do so in order to remove harmful bacteria, it is not recommended now. The rationale is that, when washing the turkey, you are splashing bacteria around the kitchen, and that if the turkey is stored and handled properly, and cooked to the recommended safe temperature, surface bacteria will be destroyed.

You need an estimate of how long it will take to roast a turkey, so that you will know when to put it into the oven. Here are approximate times for stuffed turkeys at 180°C (350°F): 3 - 3.5 kg (6 - 8 lb), 3 - 3 ¼ hours; 3.5 - 4.5 kg (8 - 10 lb), 3 ¼ - 3 ½ hours; 4.5 - 5.5 kg (10 - 12 lb), 3 ½ - 3 ¾ hours; 5.5 - 7 kg (12 - 16 lb), 3 ¾ - 4 hours; 7 - 10 kg (16 - 22 lb), 4 - 4 ½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Stuff the turkey lightly just before putting it into the oven. Stitch or skewer the cavity to keep it closed, if desired, and then loosely tie the legs together.

It is considered to be safer to cook the stuffing separately in a covered baking dish during the last half hour that the turkey is roasting. It takes less time to roast a turkey without stuffing than one that is stuffed: 3 - 3.5 kg (6 - 8 lb), 2 ½ - 2 ¾ hours; 3.5 - 4.5 kg (8 - 10 lb), 2 ¾ - 3 hours; 4.5 - 5.5 kg (10 - 12 lb), 3 - 3 ¼ hours; 5.5 - 7 kg (12 - 16 lb), 3 ¼ - 3 ½ hours; 7 - 10 kg (16 - 22 lb), 3 ½ - 4 hours.

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roast pan, and brush lightly with cooking oil. Roast the turkey uncovered. When the skin is golden brown, loosely cover with foil, shiny side down, to prevent excessive browning. Baste the turkey once an hour, if desired.

About half an hour before the estimated time that the turkey will be done, check the internal temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh.

Temperature should be 77°C (170°F) for an unstuffed turkey, or 85°C (185°F) for a stuffed one, and the stuffing should reach 74°C (165°F).

When the turkey is done, remove it form the oven and let it stand for 15 - 20 minutes to allow the juices to set and make it easier to carve. Remove all the dressing before carving and serving.

Move any leftover turkey, dressing and gravy promptly to the fridge; it should not be at room temperature for more than 2 hours altogether. Take the meat off the bones, and wrap it in packages no more than 5 cm (2 inches) thick. Store stuffing separately.

Use refrigerated turkey within 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. Use dressing and gravy within 1-2 days.

Enjoy a delicious and safe Christmas dinner, and good times with family and friends.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at

Organizations: P.E.I. Home Economics Association

Geographic location: North Wiltshire

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