Throughout the year, the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline answers questions about food safety from the public. They’re open Thanksgiving Day from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET, and it is their busiest day of year. Properly cooking a turkey can make even the most confident chef just a little nervous. The millions of first-time cooks attempting the turkey trot to the Thanksgiving table are probably a little tense too.
Common calls to the Hotline on Thanksgiving Day include “How long should I cook my turkey?” or “How many days will my macaroni and cheese last?”’. Every year, the Hotline gets a few extraordinary calls that I just have to write down. Here are a few turkey fails they’ve heard from callers over the years.
1. Lifeguard Not on Duty
Never leave your turkey by the pool unsupervised. A couple found a wild turkey, drowned from the night before, in their swimming pool. The caller asked if it could be served to their guests for dinner. Because this bird was not dressed properly immediately upon its death, it was not safe to serve.
2. Tumble Dry Low
Make sure you have the tools before you commit. One clever caller did not have a large enough container to brine his large turkey. So of course, the washing machine is the next best thing, right? Wrong. After loading the machine with the turkey, ice and brine solution, our cook forgot the bird was in there. Later the caller’s roommate put in a load of laundry, with detergent and bleach, on top of the turkey. Brining should always be done in the refrigerator in a food-grade plastic container.
3. What’s that Fowl Smell?
It’s true that cold water can be used to defrost frozen poultry, but one should really consider where that water comes from. One Thanksgiving host had a large frozen turkey and a small amount of time, so he put the turkey in the toilet and continuously flushed to allow water to run all over it. Needless to say, there could have been all kinds of bacteria on this turkey and it had to be condemned. There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey, none of which involves a toilet.
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Want more failicious Thanksgiving stories, head on over to FoodSafety.gov/turkey