We may not go over the river and through the woods anymore, but many of us still head to Grandmother's house at holiday-time, sometimes with a dish or two to contribute to the Thanksgiving table. And that presents a problem that can affect your health: How to keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold, and all food safe to eat
Be sure your Thanksgiving table doesn't host unwelcome guests: the microorganisms that cause food poisoning. Many people believe picnics are the only meals where food poisoning might occur, but the organisms that cause food poisoning thrive any time of year at temperatures between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. Don't leave foods in that danger zone for more than two hours. Pack cold foods for toting in an insulated cooler with ice packs. Insulated casseroles are great for transporting hot dishes. You also can wrap tightly covered hot foods in layers of newspapers or towels and transport them in insulated carriers. Fill gaps around the food containers with crumpled newspaper or towels to prevent shifting and spills.
Probably the best thing to do when toting hot foods, such as sweet potatoes or green bean casserole, is to completely prepare them the day before and let them cool to room temperature. Wrap or cover them tightly, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, pack them tightly in a cooler with ice or ice packs and simply reheat them when you arrive at your destination.
Now, side dishes are one thing to transport. They're small and fairly easy to manage. But what if your plan is to tote the turkey to Thanksgiving dinner at a table other than yours? If it's around the block or across town, you can just cover it tightly with foil and take it as-is. If it's two or more hours away, that calls for a whole different approach. (Even if your destination is less than two hours away, car trouble or other delays could carry you into the food-safety danger zone, so don't risk it.) Safety requires that you plan and cook a day ahead of time.
- Roast the turkey in an oven set at 325 degrees F and no lower.
- Check to see that the turkey thigh is 180 degrees F internal temperature, that the breast is 170 degrees F, and that the juices run clear.
- Let the bird rest for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving it.
- Remove the stuffing and let it cool to room temperature.
- Completely carve all of the meat from the bird; divide the turkey meat into small containers or tightly sealed packages to expedite both chilling and reheating.
- Immediately refrigerate the stuffing and turkey separately. (Or you can freeze it if you're cooking several days ahead of time. Even if you bought your turkey frozen, it's safe to re-freeze after it's been cooked.)
- When you travel, pack the turkey and stuffing in an insulated cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. When you reach your destination, reheat the turkey and stuffing in a 325 degrees F oven or in a microwave until each reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
- Discard any foods that warm above refrigerator temperature (40 degrees F). Food poisoning bacteria grow rapidly at warm temperatures.
- NEVER partially cook a turkey at your house and then try to finish cooking it later.
- NEVER put a turkey in the oven at a low temperature the night before you have to leave and think you can carry it, fully cooked, to your destination. It must be roasted at a temperature of 325 degrees F.
- NEVER stuff or dress a raw bird and transport it for later cooking. Instead, make the stuffing ahead, chill it, carry it to your destination in an ice-packed cooler, then remove and bake it as soon as you can.