During the holidays, hotlines for consumer cooking and baking questions light up. Many people cook traditional foods this time of the year, and have questions about food safety or because the recipes are vague. FoodSafety.gov is answering three of the most common questions they get this time of year about preparing and storing holiday foods.
Question one is: I bought a fresh turkey last week. Is it still safe to eat? How long can I keep a fresh turkey in the fridge?
Fresh turkey should only be purchased one or two days before you cook it. If you do not cook the bird within two days, freeze it. It can be frozen indefinitely, but should be cooked within 1 year for best quality.
Question two is: Can holiday meats be cooked at temperatures below 250°F? And can I use an oven bag for roasting a turkey?
Roasting is a recommended method for cooking tender meats. But do not cook meat and poultry at a temperature lower than 325°F because the meat could remain in the “danger zone” of 40°F to 140°F too long and let bacteria grow. The temperature of 325°F will safely cook the meat and poultry and minimizes shrinkage because of evaporation.
If you want to use an oven bag to cook the turkey, follow the manufacturer’s cooking times. In general, for whole, unstuffed turkeys in bags, cook at 350°F. For an 8-12 pound turkey, cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. For a 12-16 pound turkey, cook for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. For a 16 to 20 pound turkey, cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. And for a 20 to 24 pound turkey, cook for 3 to 3-1/2 hours. The USDA has posted a roasting chart for safe cooking times and temperatures for other types of meat and poultry, including specialty meats such as crown roast of pork, beef tenderloin roast, and leg of lamb.
Question 3: How can I store and prepare fully cooked ham?
There are two types of hams: fully cooked and those that need to be cooke before you can eat them. The type should be clearly displayed on the label. Fully cooked hams can be eaten cold right out of the package, or reheated to 140°F. When storing these hams, follow the “best if used by” dates on the label. Remember that those dates indicate best quality, but you should use store-wrapped ham products within five days.
The hams that are sold raw should have the label “cook before eating” on them. They must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 145°F. Let the ham rest for at least three minutes so the temperature can rise and so the juices redistribute. Use this product within one week after purchase.