The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates a hotline to answer consumers' questions about food preparation and food safety. On weekdays, including Thanksgiving Day, callers will be connected to a real person who can answer their questions. At other times, recorded messages will answer most questions which might be asked. The Meat and Poultry Hotline number is (888) MPHotline (674-6854).
One concern callers have expressed has to do with a pink color of cooked turkey meat. The color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of its safety. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the product. Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.
Several things can cause well-done meat to be pink.
* Chemical changes during cooking. Scientists have found that pinkness occurs when gases in the atmosphere of a heated gas or electric oven react chemically with hemoglobin in the meat tissues to give poultry a pink tinge. They are the same substances that give red color to smoked hams and other cured meats.
* Natural presence of nitrites. Nitrites are commonly used to produce a desired pink color in traditionally cured meats such as ham or bologna. The natural presence of nitrates and nitrites, either in the feed or water supply, used in the production of poultry can account for a pink color.
* Young age of meat. Often meat of younger birds shows the most pink because their thinner skins permit oven gases to reach the flesh. The amount of fat in the skin also affects the amount of pink color.
* Grilling. Meat and poultry grilled or smoked outdoors can also look pink, even when well done. There may be a pink-colored rim about one-half inch wide around the outside of the cooked meat. The meat of commercially smoked turkeys is usually pink because it is prepared with natural smoke and liquid smoke flavor.
So, pink or not, the only sure way to determine when meat has reached the proper internal temperature is to use a thermometer. For turkey the internal temperature should register 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another question the Hotline has received concerns meat which is done a few hours before it will be served. Bacteria that cause foodborne illness can contaminate safely cooked food left out at room temperature. Scientists have found that after two hours at room temperature, bacteria can multiply on foods to high enough levels to cause illness. If the meat is done sooner than expected, it can be covered and kept in a 200 degree oven until time to serve. Check the meat with a food thermometer to make sure it doesn't go below an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit while in the oven.
Meat which has several hours to wait, or has been cooked the day before it will be served, should be sliced, placed in shallow containers and refrigerated. Before serving, reheat in a 325 degree oven to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Just in time for the holidays, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service have some new videos to help prepare a holiday meal safely. Videos on thawing a turkey, stuffing a turkey, cooking a turkey, making eggnog, setting a buffet table and other topics can be found at www.youtube.com/user/USDAFoodSafety.