Have I ruined my turkey?
November 22, 2012 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Have I ruined my 7 lb turkey by leaving it uncovered at room temperature for 12 hours?

I'll keep this quick: We left a 7 lb turkey in the fridge to defrost for four days (96 hours) and then left it for 12 hours overnight, uncovered, in the kitchen at room temperature (about 65F). Only now does clevercloggs me read online that maybe this was (considerably) too long to leave it in the open. Is it still safe to cook? Will extra time in the oven help?
posted by jeatsy to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I found this: "Room temperatures fall within the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F that promotes active growth of bacteria. If left on a kitchen counter, a frozen turkey will thaw from the outside in. As its surface warms, bacteria multiply. In the time it takes for the entire turkey to thaw, the surface bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels. Cooking may not destroy all bacteria. Some foodborne bacteria produce toxins that withstand heat."

So, sadly, the answer is, probably, it's not a good idea.

If you were closer, I would invite you to dinner..
posted by HuronBob at 5:03 AM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry, but I really don't think you should eat it. Cooking poultry left out overnight is one of the biggest "don't even try it" rules I know.

Extra time in the oven won't help, as HuronBob's quote says.
posted by SMPA at 5:10 AM on November 22, 2012

Don't chance it.
Was the turkey still frozen, and that's why you took it out of the fridge for so long?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:11 AM on November 22, 2012

I used to cater and I wouldn't serve this turkey to paying customers. So sorry.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:12 AM on November 22, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers - not sounding good, but I should say I meant 7 kg (i.e. 15 lb), not 7 lb.

In answer to Thorzdad, the turkey was already thawed when we removed it from the fridge - we just wanted it to cook more quickly in the morning. (Dumb, I know!)
posted by jeatsy at 5:16 AM on November 22, 2012

I'm sorry too - I'm usually pretty loosey-goosey with the strict food safety guidelines, but this exposure time + temp (especially + industrial food production risks, if your turkey is the grocery store kind) push all the wrong buttons. I couldn't serve it with confidence in its safety, unfortunately. What a bummer.

I hope you have other resources...
posted by Miko at 5:20 AM on November 22, 2012

If it was just me I might peel off the wrapper and have a smell and feel and if it wasn't slimy or the least bit 'off' might just go ahead and cook it thoroughly, but if you're serving it to anyone else especially kids or the elderly then no, sorry.

Our October turkey was left overnight in a sink of water; in the morning the water was still pretty cold. We had no problem. But just on the counter I think there's too much risk especially if your kitchen is warmish.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:25 AM on November 22, 2012

Poultry food poisioning is sincerely awful, and no dinner is worth the risk (12 hours at room temp is way risky).

It would be better to remember it as the Year We Had Chicken than for it to be the Year Everyone Vomited For 16 Hours.
posted by Blisterlips at 5:30 AM on November 22, 2012 [35 favorites]

Yeah, time for a last-minute grocery store run. Though frankly the sides are what Thanksgiving is all about, so maybe nobody will miss the bird anyhow.

If you can't get your hands on a thawed turkey, perhaps consider a bunch of Cornish game hens. They'd feel more special than roasted chickens and they cook fast, too (though...pricy.)
posted by Andrhia at 5:37 AM on November 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

f it wasn't slimy or the least bit 'off'

Not to be a pedant but salmonella usually doesn't produce any odor or visible signs, and that's the main risk here.
posted by Miko at 5:38 AM on November 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have my Moosewood Thanksgiving menu right here beside me if you need ideas for a main-event dish and they're out of poultry at the supermarket. (Pumpkin lasagna? Butternut squash-polenta mold? Damn good and splashy.)

But I wouldn't chance that turkey. :-(
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 AM on November 22, 2012

150F internal temperature would kill most bacteria we'd normally care about, but as others have said, it gets tricky when you're intending to serve the food to others. If it was just for myself I'd cook it and enjoy the left-overs in creative ways (including soups) for days to come...if I get sick, so be it, my immune system will be strengthened. If for others, I'd buy a new bird and play it safe.
posted by samsara at 6:09 AM on November 22, 2012

Are you in the UK still? If so, you can pick up a 15lb fresh turkey from a supermarket for about £30, which seems a small price to pay compared to a serving of salmonella for 8-10 people.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:18 AM on November 22, 2012

I'm a state-licensed food handler. I agree with most of the advice that you have received, and HuronBob's post on the 40-140 danger zone was right on point.

As a practical matter, if you're in the US, the poultry trade is so regulated that salmonella contamination rate of meat is extremely low. However, especially since guests are involved, I would not chance it.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:26 AM on November 22, 2012

I got salmonilla poisoning from "stuffing in the bird" one year. (Stupid work party). It was HORRIBLE!

You can get a thawed turkey somewhere today, just do that.

It's not worth it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:05 AM on November 22, 2012

2.4% of whole turkeys have salmonella bacteria present on them; that's 1:50, not what I'd call super low. And given the time and comfortable environment you've already given any bacteria, it's not worth it.
posted by Miko at 7:32 AM on November 22, 2012

Definitely not worth the risk, especially since it was already thawed before you took it out. If you can get your hands on a fresh, unfrozen turkey, great! If you can't, your best bet on such short notice might be to get a couple of rotisserie chickens from the grocery store (assuming they sell those in the UK) and focus on making your side dishes.

You could also roast a chicken from scratch, which is relatively easy, but I'd aim for the rotisserie chickens if it were me, just to avoid the hassle since you're likely already frustrated and stressed about the turkey situation.
posted by asnider at 8:26 AM on November 22, 2012

I think everyone's advice to dispense with this particular turkey is undoubtedly the best advice to follow. However I am wondering why, if a hypothetical person was 100% sure that they cooked such a bird ensuring that the temperature throughout the entire bird was maintained as recommended to kill the bacteria, the turkey wouldn't be safe. I mean, when food gets recalled, presumably all the people who ingested the contaminated product and didn't get sick were the ones that cooked it fully and killed everything. I can not find any evidence that my logic is justified, but it simply doesn't make sense to me that some super-hardy salmonellas are going to survive the heat, even if you started out with a bird completely full of them.
posted by gubenuj at 8:32 AM on November 22, 2012

It's not only the living bacteria that can sicken you - it's their byproducts, and sometimes changes they make to the structure of the food itself.
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on November 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

What we're talking about in this thread is actually food intoxication, gubenuj: which is the consumption of toxins produced in food by bacterial growth. Toxins, not bacteria, cause the illness, and cooking doesn't get rid of them.

On preview: what Miko said.
posted by Specklet at 8:48 AM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Toxins, not bacteria, cause the illness, and cooking doesn't get rid of them.

Cooking will break down some food-borne toxins, such as botulinum and salmonella toxin. The problem is that one can never know if one has degraded all of the toxin by cooking. That's the point of the four hour "danger zone" rule; it is assumed that bacteria has generated enough toxin in that period of time and we don't take any risk about the ability to degrade them with cooking.

As for me, my turkey's being sous vided to 7-log10 lethality as informed by the FSIS poultry curve.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:21 AM on November 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks to your insights Tanizaki, Specklet and Miko, I was finally able to find the explanation for the difference between foodborne intoxication and foodborne illness that I have been seeking. As it turns out, jeatsy, the reason you had to throw your poor turkey out was probably not to prevent your dinner guests from getting salmonellosis, but most likely staph, or possibly botulism.

I hope you all had a delicious and foodishly safe meal!
posted by gubenuj at 11:07 AM on November 23, 2012

So what happened?!
posted by DarlingBri at 8:45 PM on December 8, 2012

« Older How can I make my recumbent bike comfortable?   |   Understanding PS Atiyah (contract law) -help! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.