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USDA Offers Tips on Safe and Easy Thanksgiving Cooking

Contact: Susan Conley, 301-504-9605; Steven Cohen, 202-720-9113, both with the U.S. Department of Agriculture


WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 /Standard Newswire/  -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has an array of information available to help consumers prepare a safe, easy and delicious Thanksgiving Day meal.


New this year is "Let's Talk Turkey, A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey." Every facet of getting a turkey from the grocery store to the dinner table is included – buying fresh vs. frozen, safe thawing methods, stuffing, roasting and even storing and reheating leftovers. The brochure and other information related to turkey preparation can be printed from the FSIS Web site at:


Other publications available on the FSIS Web site can answer a myriad of Thanksgiving-related food safety questions. Here are some frequently-asked questions from fact sheets that can be found by clicking on "Fact Sheets" on the FSIS site. You can select either "Poultry Preparation" or "Seasonal Food Safety."


"We had a big family argument at Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Mildred wouldn't eat the turkey because the cooked meat looked pink. Is pink turkey meat safe?"


The color of cooked meat and poultry is not always a sure sign of its degree of doneness. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that meat has reached a safe temperature. Turkey, fresh pork, ground beef or veal can remain pink even after cooking to temperatures of 160 °F and higher. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.


"What is brining and what are its benefits?"


The verb "brine" means to treat with or steep in brine. Brine is a strong solution of water and salt. The salt has two effects on poultry, reports Dr. Alan Sams, a professor of poultry science at Texas A & M University. "It dissolves protein in muscle and the salt and protein reduce moisture loss during cooking. This makes the meat juicer, more tender and improves the flavor. The low levels of salt enhance the other natural flavors of poultry." For best results, submerge poultry in solution and store covered in refrigerator, at least overnight. Discard brine after use. Cook turkey within 2 days.


"Is it safe to deep fry a turkey?"


A whole turkey can be successfully cooked by the deep fat frying method if the turkey has been completely thawed and is not stuffed. For additional information on deep fat frying as well as cooking turkey in an electric roaster, grilling, smoking, cooking it frozen, microwaving and pressure cooking, visit the Web site and read "Turkey: Alternative Routes to the Table."


"I just discovered I cooked the turkey with the package of giblets still inside the cavity. Are the turkey and giblets safe to eat?"


If giblets were left in the cavity during roasting, even though this is not recommended, the turkey and giblets are probably safe to use. However, if the packaging material containing the giblets has changed shape or melted in any way during cooking, do not use the giblets or the turkey because harmful chemicals from the packaging may have penetrated the surrounding meat.


"How can I be sure a stuffed turkey is safely cooked?"


For safety and uniform doneness of the turkey, cook stuffing separately in a casserole. You must use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the stuffing has reached 165 °F. If you choose to stuff a turkey, mix the ingredients just before loosely stuffing the bird. The temperature of a whole turkey must reach 180 °F in the innermost part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing must reach 165 °F. If the stuffing has not reached 165 °F, continue cooking the turkey until the stuffing reaches 165 °F. Remember to set your oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.


"What do I do with hot take out food? I am picking up a hot, cooked turkey dinner at a restaurant."


If you eat within two hours, handle the hot food as follows: Pick up the food HOT...and keep it HOT. Keeping foods warm is not enough. Harmful bacteria multiply fastest between 40° and 140 °F. Set the oven temperature high enough to keep the internal temperature of the turkey and all side dishes at 140 °F or above. Use a food thermometer to check food temperatures. Covering the food will help keep it moist.


If you're not eating within 2 hours, remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity and refrigerate in shallow containers. Reheating a whole turkey is not recommended. Cut turkey into smaller pieces and refrigerate. Slice breast meat; legs and wings may be left whole. Refrigerate potatoes, gravy, and vegetables in shallow containers. Reheat turkey pieces and all side dishes thoroughly to 165 °F, until hot and steaming. Bring gravy to a rolling boil. If using a microwave oven then cover food and rotate dish so it heats evenly. Follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instructions.


USDA makes it easy to obtain food safety information 24/7 via phone or on the Internet. Cooks who prefer the personal touch can speak to a food safety specialist (English or Spanish) or hear food safety messages by calling the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or TTY: 1-800-256-7072. Or, they can receive a personal answer electronically by e-mailing a question to Publications can be printed from the FSIS Web site


Also on the FSIS Web site, worldwide users can get an instant answer 24/7 by typing a question to "Ask Karen." Karen is a Web-based, automated response system that answers typed questions about the safe handling, preparation and storage of meat, poultry and egg products. Users also can type a category and view a list of questions from an extensive database of food safety information.