NOT Ready-to-eat

Except perhaps a quick glance at the recommended microwave cooking times, I’m betting that most people don’t look at the fine print on a bag of frozen vegetables. I’ve recently noticed that some packages now contain the food safety caution:

“Product is not ready to eat. For food safety, cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Refrigerate any leftovers.”

As a food safety instructor I’m really pleased to see these kinds of cautions on packages—now to get people to read and believe.

Most people think of frozen vegetables as relatively safe but, they are not intended to be consumed without cooking, because they may contain bacteria that are only killed when cooked properly and thoroughly. These bacterial pathogens are the biggest concern.  Several foodborne illnesses have been linked to frozen vegetables including  Listeria monocytogenes, Norovirus and Hepatitis A.

According to the Frozen Food Foundation  http://www.frozenfoodfacts.org/about-frozen-foods/helpful-hints   freezing does not kill all bacteria; some can live at freezing temperatures. Even frozen foods that were partially cooked by the producer may not have been cooked at temperatures high enough or long enough to kill all the bacteria that might have been present. They emphasize that it is important to prepare ready-to-cook frozen foods according to their cooking instructions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers most frozen vegetables “ready-to-cook” NOT “ready-to-eat.”  As their name suggests, ready-to-cook foods must be cooked according to package instructions before eaten.  On the other hand,  ready-to-eat (RTE) foods are just that: foods that can be eaten right out of the refrigerator.

You might be asking yourself, why would someone eat frozen vegetables uncooked?  One thought that comes quickly to mind is when people pop veggies directly from their freezer into the blender for a smoothie. I also know several salad and salsa recipes that use frozen or partially thawed but not cooked vegetables as ingredients.

Remember that young children, the elderly and people that are immune compromised due to illness, transplants or HIV are more susceptible to a foodborne illness than others.  Pregnant women should be very cautious because a Listeria infection could lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or septicemia or meningitis in the newborn.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

 

 

 

Washing Poultry

Research shows that 70% of consumers wash their chicken before they cook it. Where do you stand on this issue?

The practice of washing chicken may actually have come from someone I admire greatly, Julia Child.  In one of her episodes of The French Chef she advised viewers to run uncooked chicken under the faucet saying she just thought it was a safer thing to do. She reasoned that we wash produce, so we should probably wash poultry, too.  Julia said it, must be right.  Sorry, no.

We all know that there can be bacterial hazards in raw poultry. The most concerning are  Salmonella and Campylobacter. Meat and poultry account for 22% of all foodborne illnesses and 29% of all foodborne illness related deaths.

These bacteria CANNOT be removed from the poultry by washing.  But they can be splashed and spread around your kitchen when when placed under the kitchen faucet to rinse.  Bacteria-laden water could go onto counter tops, faucets, towels, sponges or ready-to-eat food sitting near-by.  This is a prime example of potential  cross contamination.

Best practices are to use the poultry directly from the package. Take care not to spread any juices from the chicken that may have collected in the package.  Wash your hands carefully before and after handling the raw chicken.  The only way to know poultry is safe is by using a food thermometer to insure it has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

There are a couple other things you can do to help make sure you’re keeping your chicken (and other foods in the refrigerator safe):  keep your refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees F and store the poultry in the lowest part of your refrigerator so it won’t have the opportunity to drip potentially hazardous juices onto ready-to-eat foods and/or produce that won’t be cooked.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

References:

RTI International. “Many U.S. consumers do not use a food thermometer when cooking poultry, despite hazardous risks” January 26, 2015  https://www.rti.org/news/many-us-consumers-do-not-use-food-thermometer-when-cooking-poultry-despite-hazardous-risks

Don’t wash your chicken campaign, Drexel University. http://drexel.edu/dontwashyourchicken/

Food 52 March 20, 2018 Should You Wash Your Chicken? https://food52.com/blog/21918-should-you-wash-your-chicken

Is it TWO or FOUR?

This is something that’s been bugging me.  I teach food safety, primarily to food service managers and folks that work in restaurants.  Occasionally I do work with consumer groups. If you teach these topics you know that there are a couple differences in what we teach the restaurant folks vs. what we teach consumers.  Why?

According to the FDA Food Code food service operations are allowed to keep TCS (or potentially hazardous)  food in the temperature danger zone (TDZ) of 41 degrees to 135 degrees F for up to FOUR hours.

But, when you teach it to consumers it’s the TWO HOUR RULE.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture: “Never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour.” https://www.fsis.usda.gov .

And if you really want to get “picky” their TDZ  is a bit different, too. They say 40 degrees to 140 degrees F.

Food doesn’t instantly go bad at either two hours or four hours. Again, according to the USDA  “leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.”

Why the difference?  I don’t really have an “official” scientific reason. According to the folks at the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline they are leaving an abundance of caution with the conservative consumer recommendations.

While teaching I try to explain to folks that the four hours allowed for restaurants/food service is making the assumption that these folks are following recommended FDA food safety practices. These include lots of  hand washing and gloves,  use of sanitizers, working to prevent cross-contamination and using timers and thermometers.

This conservative approach might be a great idea for consumers. A lot of things can happen (or not happen) in a home kitchen.  I’m hoping that they do wash their hands before cooking and do use some good food safety procedures.  Not many folks in home kitchens use sanitizers but let’s hope they use lots of hot soapy water. Does the dog or cat climb on that counter when they are alone in the house?  Did mom get called away and thinks it’s two hours, when really it was more?  Food in restaurants are delivered in refrigerated trucks and put away quickly, while sometimes food stays in the TDZ longer than planned between the grocery store and the home refrigerator. I also wonder how many home refrigerators have thermometers.

What I  think is really important…if it’s two or four…. follow good food safety practices all of the time.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

Recalls in the news

I know people on Facebook are just trying to be helpful….but they also spread fear and concern.  Twice within the last week I’ve gotten a “FLASH NEWS ALERT” about a recall of shredded cheese due to Listeria. There were many “shares” on this post and also many people commenting that they were afraid and pitching the cheese in their refrigerator.

I try hard to keep up on food safety topics in the news and hadn’t heard anything about a new recall. So, I checked it out at the government’s food recall website FoodSafety.gov . This site provides food safety and food recall information from both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  At this website you can also sign up for alerts to be sent to your smart phone or email.

The FDA is responsible for about 80% of the food eaten in the United States. The Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA monitors meat, poultry and egg products produced in federally inspected establishments. The web site will direct you to which agency is specifically involved with the recall and alert.

If there is a multistate foodborne illness outbreak, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) serves as the lead coordinator.  You can follow these outbreaks and the investigations on the CDC website https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/

According to the FDA website, they only seek publicity about a recall when they believe the public needs to be alerted to a serious hazard.  There are three recall classifications. Class I has the highest risk when the public is at risk for a serious health problem or death including biological pathogens and food allergens. When you look at the list of recalls it’s interesting to note that many of them are related to undeclared allergens, mislabeling or foreign matter in the food. Not all are recalls are linked to foodborne illness pathogens.

It is wise to protect yourself—pay attention to food recalls and check your refrigerator, freezer and pantry for these products.

The foodsafety.gov site lists recent as well as archives older recalls.  There has been nothing since last year on cheese.   I guess it just takes that long for some of these posts to get around.

It’s always worth a double check before pressing that “share” button spreading fear to your family, friends, students and clients!

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

More Sushi Safety

I had just posted the article on Sushi Safety when I saw a related scary report in the news about a California man with  a tapeworm that they suspect he got from eating  sushi. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sushi-lover-pulled-5-foot-tapeworm-from-intestines/

First you may ask, could this really happen?

Yes, it could. The tapeworm is a form of parasite that can enter the body in food and then continue to live and grow within the host. Yikes!  Parasites are microorganisms that cannot grow outside a host but can live in food, water or soil waiting for a host to come along. While it does not happen frequently, there are several parasites that have been associated with seafood.

Some parasites are native to certain regions in the ocean and specific types of seafood and fish.  There are also parasites that can be found in freshwater fish like pike, walleye and perch.

In research letter published just last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers  said there have been increased cases of a Japanese broad tapeworm (diphyllobothriosis)  in wild pink salmon.  They cautioned that this parasite has been found on the Pacific coast of North American  and may pose a potential danger to those who eat these fish raw. Sources are chum, masu, pink and sockeye salmon.

A tapeworm like the man from California had can live inside a human for many years.  Symptoms are abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and changes in appetite. The worm can actually absorb vitamin B12 from the person’s intestine and if it grows big enough it can block the bowel.  The good news is that it can be destroyed with medication.

Another seafood related parasite is Anisakis simplex (roundworms). These can be found in fish, squid, cuttlefish and octopus.  Symptoms that may occur after someone consumes this parasite include tingling in the throat, coughing up worms, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  They can infect the stomach and intestine and must be removed by a medical professional.

How can you protect yourself from these parasites?  Purchasing from a safe and inspected source and proper cooking are the two best things you can do. Cooking seafood to 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds, fishcakes to 155 degrees F and stuffed fish to 165 degree F can really reduce the risk. Salting, “cooking with lime” as in ceviche, marinating and cold smoking does NOT necessarily destroy parasites.

Restaurants selling raw or undercooked seafood are required to purchase their seafood products from approved sources that follow the appropriate methods of parasite destruction. Remember that this does not destroy any other bacteria or viruses that may be on the fish and careful handling is still very important.

It is interesting to note that fish sold at grocery stores or fish markets are not required to have been previously frozen to destroy parasites. It is assumed that this fish will be properly cooked before it is eaten.  Consumers wanting to prepare raw or undercooked seafood at home should ask questions at the fish market to determine if the fish is a species that is known for parasites and if so, has it been frozen for parasite destruction.

Buying “sushi grade” fish and thinking you’re safe? Think again. There are no regulations that define “sushi grade” fish. Your best bet is to ask lots of questions.

Not following good food safety recommendations regarding parasites can be risky —especially for children, the elderly, the immune suppressed and pregnant women who often have weaker immune systems.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Sources:

Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America Kuchta, R., Oros, M., Ferguson, J., & Scholz, T. (2017). Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America. Emerging Infectious Diseases   https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/2/16-1026_article

Seafood Health Facts:  Making Smart Choices, National Sea Grant Program https://www.seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood-safety/general-information-healthcare-professionals/seafood-safety-topics/parasites

Bad Bug Book, The United States Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/ucm297627.pdf

 

 

Leave the butter out

If you read this blog regularly, you know that we’re trying to reduce the amount of saturated fats that we eat at our house. This includes butter. https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/the-butter-dish-is-empty/

But, when teaching about food safety, I still get the question….should butter be kept in the refrigerator or is it safe on the counter?

Obviously there are some foods that are more prone to making us sick than others. Foods like meat, poultry, eggs, fish, shellfish, dairy products, baked potatoes, garlic and oil mixtures, cooked plant food, raw sprouts, tofu and added more recently to this list are leafy greens, cut melons, cut tomatoes and mixtures of cut tomatoes fit into the “risky” group. These items should be kept in the refrigerator.

Common sense (and research) shows that other foods may be “less risky”. These are things like sugar, crackers, uncooked pasta and rice, uncut vegetables and fruits, chips and some baked goods.

What about butter?  Since it’s a dairy food does it have to be kept in the fridge?

Although it is did come from milk and could be considered a dairy product, butter has a high fat content and low water activity. These are not the right conditions for bacteria to grow. So, it’s not risky (at least food safety wise) to leave at room temperature.

Saying that, there is another problem: rancidity.

If butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid.  What is rancidity? This is a type of spoilage caused by a chemical reaction in the fat. This gives your butter that “off” smell or flavor. Keeping butter cold slows this spoilage process down.

If you’re like me and use butter very infrequently you may want to keep the butter in the freezer, but even freezing doesn’t stop quality deterioration completely.  Butter will keep for six to nine months in the freezer, if it’s wrapped properly and held below zero degrees.

Also, in the freezer it’s out-of-site and out-of-mind.  If it’s not setting on the counter next to the toaster I’m less likely to use it!

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Compare:

Spread Serving Calories Fat (g) Sat Fat (g)
Butter 1 Tbsp 100 12 7
Light margarine 1 Tbsp 50 5 .7
Almond butter 1 Tbsp 100 9 .7
Apple sauce 1 Tbsp 20 0 0
Peanut butter 1 Tbsp 94 8 1.5
  • Butter, 1 tablespoon, 100 calories, 12 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat
  • Light margarine, 1 tablespoon, 50 calories, 5 grams of fat, .7 grams of saturated fat
  • Almond butter, 1 tablespoon, 100 calories, 9 grams of fat, .7 grams of saturated fat
  • Apple sauce, 1 tablespoon, 20 calories, 0 g fat
  • Peanut butter, 1 tablespoon, 94 calories, 18 g of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat

 

 

Reader questions onion safety

Question from a reader:  “What information do you have about the idea that onions pose a risk if left in the refrigerator after cutting?  It is something most of us have always done and now there is information floating out there in the internet world that this is not a safe practice.  Thanks for any insight!”

Don’t you just love the internet?  All of these “tales” can cause us to worry about everything!  According to Snopes, this one has been going around since 2008 and there isn’t any scientific proof to support this statement.

Nothing mysterious happens to onions once they are in the refrigerator. Like all fruits and vegetables, once cut, onions should be kept in the refrigerator (National Center for Home Food Preservation and National Onion Association).  I’ll refer you to another article I wrote about Keeping Fruits and Vegetables Safe.

Once a fruit or vegetable has been cut, the barrier to the outside world has been broken and the plant’s natural defenses have been compromised. This opens the food up to the environment. Plus, the moisture and natural sugars in fruits and vegetables help create a great place for bacteria to grow. Refrigerator temperatures, on the other hand, can help slow this development of bacteria. The biggest problem with onions in the refrigerator is the odor.  Be sure to wrap well or keep in a sealed container.

But don’t store your uncut onions in the refrigerator. Whole unpeeled onions should be kept in a cool, dry, well ventilated place. Don’t store them in a plastic bag. Sweet onions tend to have higher water content and are more susceptible to bruising and will have a shorter shelf life than yellow onions. Once peeled or cut, onions should be stored (well wrapped or covered) in the refrigerator at 41 degrees or below.  A peeled or cut onion will be of good quality for 7 in the refrigerator.

If you have a few too many chopped onions they can be frozen. I have frozen leftover chopped  onions (without blanching) for a short time, they are not crisp when thawed, but work great for cooking. Be sure to wrap well.  Use within 3-6 months for best quality. For longer freezer storage, The National Center for Home Food Preservation (nchfp.uga.edu) recommends they be blanched and cooled before freezing.

One final tip: according to the National Onion Association (www.onion-usa.org) it’s the sulfuric compounds  in the onions that cause us to cry when cutting onions. To help reduce this,they recommend chilling the onion before cutting and cutting into the root end of the onion last.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

Sushi Safety

Sushi safety.…….say that three times fast!

Over the past several decades, sushi has become very popular in the United States.  It is now common to hear folks going out for sushi,  bringing it home from the grocery store or even making it at home. Sushi business is worth over $2.2 billion in the US and grocery store sushi sales are booming according to Fortune magazine. Overall sushi sales have grown by 30% in the past decade. But, is this sushi safe to eat?

First off…let’s set the record straight…sushi isn’t just raw fish. Sushi literally means “seasoned rice” and this rice is the key ingredient.  However, the term sushi is generically used to describe bite-sized pieces of raw fish, shellfish, cooked fish or vegetables and other ingredients on a bed of seasoned rice or simply the consumption of raw fish in the Japanese style.

Sushi is one of those foods that can be risky —especially for people such as children, elderly, the immune suppressed and pregnant women who are already more susceptible to a foodborne illness.

If sushi has been prepared according to regulations of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and local and state health regulations it should be safe.  These are some concerns and things to keep in mind when ordering, making or eating sushi:

UNCOOKED SEAFOOD. Raw animal products may contain bacteria.  Cooking seafood to 145 degrees can really reduce the risk of food borne illness. Safer sushi is made with cooked products such as cooked fish, crab, or tempura shrimp. Or it skips raw protein and just utilizes raw veggies.

CROSS CONTAMINATION.  Just like any other food,  the fish or other ingredients in sushi could be contaminated at any time along the food chain—from the fishermen to the processor to the sushi chef to the consumer. Without the cooking step, there is just more risk and more chance of contamination. The raw seafood  and other ingredients should be kept at 41 degrees or below and cooked items over 135 degrees.

SUSHI RICE. Cooked rice should be kept at refrigerator temperatures unless it has the appropriate amount of acid (usually rice vinegar) added. An experienced sushi chef knows how to make rice correctly so it reaches a safe pH.  If you’re doing this at home, don’t guess about the pH and let the rice stay at room temperature for more than two hours.

PARASITES. While many people think “fresh is best”,   this may not be the key with sushi fish.  Fish to be eaten raw or partially cooked  should have been  frozen to destroy any parasites that may be naturally in the fish.   This is not something that can be done in a home freezer—the temperatures need to be very cold for a specific amount of time.  Good sushi restaurants purchase their fish from suppliers that properly freeze their fish. Not all fish are prone to parasites. Among the fish that do NOT need to be frozen to destroy parasites are:  molluscan shellfish, many species of tuna including yellowfin (ahi), bluefin, bigeye, albacore, or blackfin and some farm-raised salmon.  Ask questions if purchasing fish to be eat raw at home, insure it has been properly frozen.  Proper cooking will also destroy these parasites. Remember that the freezing does not destroy all bacteria or viruses that may be on the fish. Careful handling after freezing and thawing is still very important.

POOR PERSONAL HYGIENE.  Watch the sushi chefs.  How often do they wash their hands or sanitize the cloths they are using?  Are they wearing gloves when they make the sushi?  Boards and utensils should be cleaned and sanitized frequently, especially when preparing uncooked products such as raw sashimi and then cooked products like tempura shrimp.

READY TO EAT SUSHI. Check the “sell by” dates of sushi purchased at the grocery store. Make sure the sushi has been kept cold after it was made and select only packages on display that are deep in the cooler or display case.  Take-out sushi should be eaten on the day of purchase.  Keep sushi cold on the way home and refrigerate until use.  Prepared sushi or sushi on a buffet should be kept below 40 degrees.

HIGH SODIUM CONTENT. Sushi can contain ingredients that are very high in sodium such as fish eggs, artificial “krab” meat, and various Asian condiments that are very high in sodium. If you or your loved ones are concerned about blood pressure you have to bear this in mind and help fit these foods into your daily eating plan. California style sushi without sauce is always a go-to item or you can ask the chef to make a roll with cooked shrimp and leave off the sauces.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

 

Real-World Strategies for Dealing with Office Treats

A couple of weeks ago a co-worker sent this email to everyone in the office:  “There are three types of pie and a can of whipped cream in the fridge!  Pumpkin, Apple, and Pecan, please help me get rid of them!!”

This is what’s being called: food dumping. Like most people, I’ve been guilty of food dumping, but also and I’ve also been the victim.

Food dumping is when you bring party leftovers, unwanted food gifts or just extra treats into the office break room. Sometimes it’s not really unwelcome food but a special treat for your co-workers or a neighboring office as a holiday gift. No matter why it’s there, it seems most office break rooms are filled with food this time of year.

First off I guess I need to congratulate my co-worker and all “food dumpers” for realizing that they really don’t want all that extra food sitting around their house.  But this doesn’t encourage or help your coworkers to eat more healthful.

OK, I don’t want to be a real humbug about this and say that no one should have special holiday goodies.  Being realistic, I know it’s going to happen. What can you do if you really are trying to be heathful?

Here are a couple thoughts to help you take control of the situation:

  • Encourage a “no dumping” policy at the office. If people do want to share special recipes or treat, perhaps set up a schedule or calendar of when each person or office is welcomed to bring something. This may eliminate the overflowing trays and possibly waste.
  • OUT OF SIGHT-OUT OF MIND. If they MUST bring candies and cookies, ask that they be hidden or at least covered.
  • If the snacks and goodies sitting around the break room are just too tempting for you, one solution is to try to avoid that room altogether.
  • If you’re co-workers aren’t on board, at least you can control your office and your desk. Have healthy snacks in your desk so you won’t be starved and tempted when you see a large plate of treats hanging out by the copier.
  • Start your day off right with a healthy breakfast so you won’t be as tempted as you might be when you head for the second cup of coffee. Keep the breakfast light and healthy so if you do want to snack there will be a place for it in your healthy diet.
  • Keep a pair of exercise shoes in the office to take walking breaks.

One more thing, I couldn’t let the idea of food sitting around go without mentioning some food safety issues:

  • Perishable foods should be kept at room temperature for no more than two hours. If it’s out longer than that the food should be pitched.
  • Label foods with ingredients—especially nuts and gluten—for those with allergies and intolerances.
  • Label foods with dates, too. This will eliminate “mystery foods” in a couple of days. Most perishable items should be pitched after four days.

There may be other options instead of food dumping. Could you share food gifts with charitable institutions, nursing homes or women’s shelters that may not have any treats? Unfortunately, due to food safety issues, many may not be able to accept homemade or opened food items.  Think about what foods would freeze well for later when they would be more appreciated and enjoyed.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

How NOT to thaw that turkey

If you’ve followed my posts you know that I’ve worked for the Cooperative Extension System for almost 40 years.  I remember when the phone rang-off-the-hook this time of year with various questions about thawing and cooking that Thanksgiving turkey. Calls to the office have lightened with telephone “help” hotlines and the internet, but the unique and potentially unsafe methods that people are trying to thaw a turkey haven’t changed—maybe they’re getting worse.

Here are some of my favorites from over the years. Remember: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME! These are just for your amusement and in the “you want to do WHAT?” with that turkey category https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/thanksgiving-quiz/.

Thawing the turkey in the laundry sink for three days. WRONG. As the turkey thaws, the outside would be within the temperature danger zone for a long period of time allowing potentially dangerous bacteria to multiply.

Thawing the turkey in the garage or in the trunk of the car.  RISKY. Even if it’s cold outside there is no guarantee that the temperature within the garage or trunk will stay below the required 40 degrees to allow the turkey to defrost safely.

In the dryer. DON’T EVEN GO THERE! Don’t ask me how this worked—or if it did—I just can imagine how a 20 pound turkey sounded going around—and –around. THUMP THUMP THUMP.  The warm temperatures in the dryer would just be perfect for that bacterial incubation—not to mention the mess and clean-up.

Putting in a cooler with ice blocks—this might work if you are very conscientious and keep checking the temperature and changing the ice. Remember: the inside of the cooler needs to be kept below 40 degrees the whole time. This could take several days.

My ultimate favorite—shared by a colleague—someone put their turkey in the toilet and flushed it every ½ hour.  I really know what they were thinking here, the recommendations for thawing in water say to submerge and change the water every ½ hour. BUT, there are so many other PROBLEMS with this scenario.

The SAFEST way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator where the temperature can be kept below 40 degrees F.  Place the turkey in the refrigerator in its wrapper—unopened—on a tray or plate to catch any drippings. It will take approximately 24 hours for each five pounds of turkey. So your 20 pound turkey will need to be in the refrigerator for at least four days. Once thawed, your turkey can be safely stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking. It is a good idea to take your turkey out of the freezer on Saturday before Thanksgiving. Of course you can always buy a fresh turkey and skip the defrosting step.

For faster thawing you can use the cold water method. Submerge the frozen turkey in its unopened original wrapper in cold water.  The key to this method is that you need to change the water every 30 minutes to keep the outside cold. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound—so for a 20 pound turkey you’re changing keeping an eye on it and changing the water every half hour for 10 hours. This method does work well if you the turkey needs just a little more thawing time at the last minute.

You can defrost a smaller turkey in a microwave oven.  To defrost unwrap and place in a baking dish.  It will take 3-8 minutes per pound on 30%-50% power or the defrost setting. Check your manufacture’s book for specifics with your microwave. The important thing to remember if you defrost in the microwave is that you need to finish the cooking right away. This can be done in the microwave or transfer it over to the regular oven.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University