A matter of degrees
By By Penny Randall / staff writer
Nov. 20, 2002
A good thermometer paired with basic temperature information is all that's needed to avoid confusion in the kitchen during the holiday season.
Melissa Mixon, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said bacteria can grow rapidly when food is between 40 and 140 degrees.
Perishable foods in this temperature zone have a two-hour window in which they are safe.
Accurate thermometers are the only way to ensure food is cooked to the correct temperature. Mixon urges cooks to buy quality thermometers for their refrigerator, freezer and cooking applications.
She said using the food's visual appearance is not a reliable way of determining whether it is cooked.
A cooked turkey will read 180 degrees when the thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the meat. But a perfectly cooked turkey starts with the correct thawing procedure.
To thaw a turkey properly it should be placed in the refrigerator one day for every five pounds of weight.
Mixon also recommends against cooking stuffing inside the turkey. She said the United States Department of Agriculture warns consumers that bacteria can grow in stuffing cooked inside turkeys.
Mixon said if people insist on cooking the stuffing inside the turkey, then they should follow several guidelines.
Mixon also said the mixture needs to be loosely stuffed leaving room for the heat to circulate.
The temperature of the meat after the meal is also important.
Mixon said most microorganisms that make people sick are destroyed when food is cooked to 140 to 160 degrees.
After cooking, new bacteria can grow if it's not stored safely. When eating leftovers, reheat to 165 to destroy anything that may have grown in the food since it was last cooked.