Thanksgiving time is a special time for long term care residents. This time of year can bring back fond memories of family gatherings. Many of the residents probably have a favorite salad or maybe a special pumpkin pie recipe, Turkey is the star of most Thanksgiving meals and everyone has an idea of how best to prepare a turkey. There are no short cuts when it comes to serving turkey safely for residents and family members. Here are some safety tips to follow when preparing turkey for the residents, staff and family members this year.

As always, wash your hands thoroughly prior to any meal preparation. First of all, the turkey must be kept safe during thawing. A frozen turkey must have ample time for defrosting in the cooler. Allow a thawing time of approximately 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.

Never allow a turkey to thaw on the counter. Room temperatures fall within the danger zone of 41 ̊F to 135 ̊F which can promote growth of bacteria. If a frozen turkey is left on the kitchen counter, it will thaw from the outside in. As the surface warms, bacteria can multiply.  In the time it takes for the entire turkey to thaw, the surface bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels. Cooking may not destroy all bacteria. Thawing on the counter is unsafe and could cause residents, family members or staff to become ill.

Place prepared stuffing in the turkey just before roasting. Do not stuff the night before as is could cause food borne illness. Mix stuffing ingredients just before stuffing the bird and make sure to stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the turkey and stuffing to reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 ̊ F. For optimal safety it may be best to cook stuffing in a separate container.

Cook the turkey to a final temperature of 180 ̊ F in the thigh. If the bird is stuffed, the stuffing should reach 165 ̊ F.  As soon as the turkey is completely cooked, remove all the stuffing from the cavities. Harmful bacteria are more likely to grow in the stuffing if it sits in the bird after cooking. Keep the stuffing warm in the oven or hot box. Let the turkey stand for 15 minutes prior to carving it.

Leftover turkey, stuffing, gravy or any other leftover cooked foods should be stored in separate containers in the cooler within 2 hours of cooking.

By following these basic turkey safety tips, your residents, staff and family members can have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving meal.