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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Slow cooking the Thanksgiving turkey may leave enough bacteria living to cause illness, a University of Tennessee food scientist said Tuesday.

Dr. Curtis Melton said some Southern cooks use a method that calls for the bird to be cooked in an oven overnight at 250 degrees.

 “The problem is that some of the meat may not get hot enough fast enough,” said Melton. “If there is any bacteria on the bird, it may not be killed.”

 To make sure turkey is properly cooked, a meat thermometer and an oven cooking temperature of 325 degrees are recommended, Melton said.

 “The meat thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat,” Melton said. “When the thermometer reads 180 degrees — or 170 for just a breast — it’s done.”

 Whole turkey cooked to a temperature of 180 degrees will still be tender and moist, which is the goal cooks have in mind when they use the overnight method, Melton said.

Another risk some cooks take is rinsing the uncooked turkey under water before putting it in the oven, Melton said.

 “Some people rinse the bird before cooking, but that can spread bacteria if the water splashes and splatters onto countertops,” Melton said. “Cooking kills any bacteria, so just take the bird from its wrapping, put it on a roasting pan and into the oven.”

 Melton also offered the following additional tips:

— Thaw frozen turkeys only in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for each five pounds of weight and making sure a plate or tray is under the bird to catch any juices that might drip onto other foods.

 — Wash hands with soap and water after handling uncooked turkey.

— Regrigerate or freeze leftover turkey within two hours, starting from the time the bird is pulled hot from the oven. To speed cooling, carve meat from the bone for storage.

— Eat refrigerated leftovers within two days. Frozen cooked turkey still can be eaten after two to three months but is best if eaten the first month.


 Contact: Dr. Curtis Melton (423-974-7265)