Even when turkey is well-prepared, bacteria spores may remain that can cause food poisoning if warm turkey is left out too long.
Normally, cooking turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill bacteria like salmonella or e. coli, as well as Clostridium perfringens, a bacteria common to turkey. But spores from c. perfringens remain after cooking and can be activated in warm turkey.
Mindy Brashears, food safety expert at Texas Tech University, strongly recommends that holiday cooks:
- Chill turkey quickly after the meal is finished.
- Cut turkey off the bones and store it in shallow pans. Anything deeper than 4 inches will keep meat from cooling fast enough.
- Reheat leftover turkey to 165 degrees before serving it.
- Boil leftover gravy.
You want to avoid keeping food in what I call the temperature danger zone, Either keep it cold or keep it hot.
She also recommends using pasturized eggs to prepare cookie dough and egg nog, not letting the kids lick the cookie bowl, and taking special care with cloths that are used to clean up after cutting raw meat and poultry.
Because people with cancer, especially patients receiving chemotherapy, are especially vulnerable to food poisoning, Brashears words make special sense this holiday season. While food poisoning may be just an unpleasant couple of days in the bathroom for a healthy adult, it can be deadly for the elderly, young children, and people with compromised immune systems.