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Carin Booth: Follow these tips to avoid fouling up your turkey this Thanksgiving
Carin Booth
Carin Booth.

It is time to choose the star of your Thanksgiving show.

The turkey is a large, domesticated North American bird. It has white feathers and a bare head with a wattled neck. A hen is the female and is generally smaller, while the tom is the male — both are equally tender.

How about inspections? All turkeys you buy in the retail store should be inspected by the Department of Agriculture or by a state agency with equivalent standards. The inspector checks the turkey and its internal organs for signs of disease. When you see the phrase “Inspected for wholesomeness by the U.S Department of Agriculture,” this means the turkey is wholesome and has been properly labeled. Inspection is mandatory!

What does the date on a turkey mean? A sell-by date indicates how long the turkey should be displayed in the store. The turkey should be purchased before the sell-by date expires. The best-if-used-by date is only a quality measure and is not related to the safety of the food.

The use-by date indicates the last day the turkey should be used. This is also a quality measure and not necessarily an indication of safety.

Nutrition labeling is required of most turkey products, and safe handling instructions are required too.

Turkey served with and without the skin have different nutritional values. Three ounces of baked turkey breast with skin has: 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 24 grams protein. A three-ounce serving of the same turkey without the skin is a little different: 120 calories, 1 gram fat, 55 milligrams cholesterol and 26 grams protein.

If you’ve had a turkey in the freezer since last Thanksgiving, is it safe to eat? It is recommended that a whole turkey be kept no longer than 12 months. There is no safety risk in keeping a turkey in the freezer longer; the only concern is the quality of the meat. Fresh whole turkeys can safely stay in the refrigerator for one to two days, or according to the date on the package.

To stuff or not to stuff? It is best to cook the stuffing separately from the turkey. The stuffing needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees for it to be safe. Often by the time the stuffing reaches this temperature the turkey is overcooked and dry. If you decide to stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking, and make sure the stuffing is moist and stuff the turkey loosely. Remember: A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.

When roasting a turkey, the oven should be set at 325 degrees or higher. The internal temperature must be at a minimum 165 degrees. Check the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thickest part of the breast. It is still best to cook the turkey to higher temperature such as 180 degrees to remove the pink color and the rubbery texture.

For more information on what size turkey to buy, how to store leftovers, frying, grilling and smoking a turkey, approximate cooking times as well as other commonly asked questions, visit or call your Hall County Extension office at 770-535-8293.  

Carin Booth is the family and consumer sciences agent at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in Hall County. She can be reached at 770-535-8293 or Her column runs monthly.

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