For great holiday meals, there's safety in numbers

Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The only accurate way to be sure your holiday turkey is safely cooked is to check its internal temperature with an accurate meat thermometer.

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Photos By Sue Ade/Morris News Service
Photos By Sue Ade/Morris News Service

The thermometer should be inserted into the innermost part of the leg and thigh joint (not resting on a bone) and the thickest part of the breast. When the temperatures in each of these areas reaches a minimum of 165 degrees, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) tells us that the harmful bacteria in the food has been killed and the turkey is safe to eat. But, despite FSIS assurances of safety and unlike the meat of the quicker-cooking breast, turkey also has a dark side that can be problematic.

While it is true that eating dark meat cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees will not make anyone ill, looking at thigh meat or a leg that emerges from the oven a bright and bloody crimson can leave anyone feeling unwell and compelled to cook the bird to a more palatable 170-175 degrees.

Worries about drying out the white meat while the dark meat is still cooking can be minimized by lightly covering the breast with a piece of buttered aluminum foil.

Once perishable foods are cooked and served, they should not sit out for more than two hours and must be refrigerated or frozen due to the potential of bacteria growth.

Keep in mind, however, even with refrigeration's capacity to slow the growth of most bacteria and harmful microorganisms, and the freezer's ability, at zero degrees or lower, to halt growth, if bacteria and microorganisms are already in the food, freezing cannot kill what is already there.

For safe holiday cooking and eating, be sure to use kitchen thermometers for all your cooking tasks and for checking the holding temperatures of your refrigerator (no more than 40 degrees) and freezer (zero degrees is ideal).

For more information on safely cooking turkey, visit or to learn more about appliance thermometers, go to

Sude Ade is a gourmet baker and collector of vintage cooking utensils and cookbooks.

She can be reached at or 843-683-0375.

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