Can I eat it? (Thanksgiving edition)
November 23, 2014 3:32 PM   Subscribe

My mom is coming down from Boston to NYC for Thanksgiving. Her current plan is to cook the turkey, wrap it in aluminum foil, put it in a polystyrene cooler and then drive it down to NYC on Thursday. This is setting off my warning bells about food safety.

The original plan was for her to bring it down Wednesday and cook it Thursday here, but do to circumstances beyond her control, she now thinks that she won't be able to leave until Thursday morning. The turkey will be fully cooked before being loaded in and then probably heated up again in my oven before eating. The drive from Boston to NYC is approximately 4-5 hours.

How safe is this? It's not going to be in my oven for nearly long enough to actually cook it through, not to mention the fact that that would dry it out beyond belief. I know that according to the USDA it shouldn't be out above 90 degrees F for more than an hour, but they're also the people who tell you not to eat rare beef.
posted by Hactar to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd eat this without thinking twice. It would probably be dry, but such is the Thanksgiving tradition. I don't think I've had a not-dry Thanksgiving turkey in my life.

Sad times.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:39 PM on November 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

1.) Unless she drives very slowly, the drive is 4 or less

2.) I wouldn't worry about this.
posted by FlyByDay at 3:42 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a tendency to partially throw caution to the wind when it comes to food safety (Unless it is Botulism--then super prudent) so I am not a food alarmist. Without any data to support my recommendation--I do not think this is a good idea. Too many uncertainties in cooking time, preparation procedures, travel time, etc. Unless it is being transported after being thoroughly cooled and well cooled while in route itn seems like a way to have what might be a very black Friday. If she insists on cooking and transporting, transport after it has been carved, thoroughly cooled and in ice/cooling bags. FWIW
posted by rmhsinc at 3:42 PM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Why not just buy a turkey in NYC and cook it in your oven? Driving it down from Boston-- cooked or raw--seems like a lot of unnecessary fuss.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:44 PM on November 23, 2014 [15 favorites]

It's not ideal, but I think that it is borderline okay, as long as after cooking it she brings it down to below six degrees celcius as soon as possible (the danger zone is between 6 and 60 degrees celcius) and keeps it as close to fridge temp as possible while in the cooler.

I think that food safety regs in some places advise that food can be in the danger zone for four hours max. But iirk, that's being extra safe. I think food can safely be in the danger zone for six hours. But remember that that is cumulative.

I don't think it would be possible to cool a whole turkey very quickly. Would it be possible for her to cut it up a bit after cooking? Kind of takes away the tradition of carving, though.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:47 PM on November 23, 2014

this really seems like a lede-burying, "how do i transport a full swimming pool from my old house to my new one across town" type question.

can you give a specific reason for not getting a turkey locally, or transporting a cold/frozen turkey and then cooking it at your house? i can't really think of one. having it ready a bit later seems like a moot point compared to the potential problems with the current plan. why not have her leave a couple hours earlier and just prepare it on site?
posted by emptythought at 3:47 PM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ugh. Hit post too soon.

While I think it would be possible to do this safely, I agree with rmhsinc that it seems like a lot of fuss and like it does have the potential to go really wrong, so it's not a great plan.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:49 PM on November 23, 2014

it seems like a lot of fuss

It's a mom wanting to deliver a Thanksgiving turkey to her grown child in New York City.

I can see this, twenty years from now, insisting to little llama that I make a Thanksgiving turkey and drive it to her in who knows.

Moms are crazy. Absolutely there's a perfectly fine turkey in New York City. Absolutely this is silly. I think it's the desire to be a mom when your kid is long past needing band aids. Is your heart broken? No I can't help. Did you get fired? No I can't help. Is your car in the shop? I can't help.

Do you need a Thanksgiving turkey?

posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:03 PM on November 23, 2014 [75 favorites]

At this point, I would be much more worried about the weather we are expecting mid-week than the turkey itself.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:04 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing the reason for the OP not cooking the turkey is because cooking a turkey is not exactly easy, there are like 20 steps to it, it takes hours, and I would consider it advanced cookery. Usually people who aren't familiar with how to cook turkeys don't say "hey, I'll just cook the turkey myself, no big deal". The mom is driving and arriving just before dinnertime so does not have time to cook it in NYC.

If it helps, my family is doing something similar - my mom's cooking the turkey, then we're going to a road race, bringing the turkey in the car, and afterwards bringing the turkey to my house where we will eat it. I am not worried about it at all. But I am not very strict about food safety. if it's going to bother you, you could come up with an alternate arrangement.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:05 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the turkey is brined I would be less worried. Salt is the enemy of most bacteria. Still I'd feel better if she iced the cooler and reheated the turkey -- yeah it will be dry-- but that's a part of the day.
posted by Mittenz at 4:07 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the turkey is fully cooked, wrapped in foil, put in a styrofoam ice chest and then driven from Boston to NYC, it'll still be warm! I'd put it on the table, eat dinner, and pick at the carcass for the next eight hours while I watched football.

I can't believe the answers I read to these type questions on AskMeFi, 95% of the time I wouldn't think twice about eating something that someone asks a question about. I regularly cut mold off food and eat the good part, sometimes I miss some of the mold and end up eating it. It won't kill you, if fact it's never made me ill. At work, food gets brought in for lunch all the time and sits out until it's time to go home. I have no qualms about picking it up and eating it for dinner. I may reheat in the microwave or may not. If food is fully cooked, I have no problem eating it after 12 hours. I'm 54 years old and can't remember a time it's made me sick. Unless you're immuno-suppressed, I wouldn't think twice about eating cooked food that's sat out for hours.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:15 PM on November 23, 2014 [20 favorites]

I would have zero concern about this. During my family Thanksgivings the partially carved turkey would easily sit out for hours before anyone got around to packing up leftovers and putting them in the fridge, so it would never even occur to me that transporting a fully cooked turkey for 4-5 hours would be a problem.
posted by ELind at 4:20 PM on November 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

So the idea here is to transport the turkey warm for five-six hours in a cooler? As a rule I'm on the "eat it" side of "should I eat it" questions, but from this description i'd pass, with extreme prejudice. Pathogenic bacteria grow extremely well at temperatures in and around 100F, and this method is going to ensure the hover around that temp for 5+ hours. It'd be one thing if she was planning to cook it, cool it, and then transport it, but this warm turkey in a cooler idea is no good.

But if your oven is big enough to reheat the turkey, why not just cook it at your place? People make a big deal about the best way to cook Turkey, and you could spend the next four days doing nothing but reading various cooks' super secret method for killer turkey, but here's the thing: roasting any meat is really easy. You preheat the oven, you put in the meat, you wait. That's really it. You can do this, even if you're an inexperienced cook.* Tell your mom to take a load off and let you handle the turkey.

*if you are a newbie cook: at this point, you'll probably have to buy a frozen bird and defrost under water in the sink overnight Wednesday. Once that's done, unwrap the bird, remove the giblets package from the cavity, rinse inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub some butter on the skin on it and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper, inside and out. Cut up some vegetables, put them in the bottom of a pan, rest the turkey on top, put a cup or two of water in the bottom of the pan, and throw it in a 350 oven several hours -- figure on twenty minutes a pound. Buy a digital thermometer for ten bucks and take it out when the breast meat reaches 165 and the thigh meat 180. That's it.
posted by Diablevert at 4:25 PM on November 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Yes. My only worry is reheating it. If you are going to make sure to carve the turkey before reheating to make sure it is heated all the way through. Actually carve it before chilling it to make sure it gets through the danger zone to cool enough fast is probably also a good idea.

I usually reheat it in a dish with some chicken/turkey stock in the bottom and covered in foil or a lid to sort of steam it & prevent drying out. If she puts the cooler in the nice cold trunk of the car & not the heated front seat I'd eat the heck out of that turkey.
posted by wwax at 4:26 PM on November 23, 2014

I'm of the " the turkey stays on the counter all day and the family gradually picks it to the bone crowd". In Georgia..... We've had t-day in shorts more often than not. I think you'll be fine.
posted by pearlybob at 4:34 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fully cooked? This is easy. After cooking place it in a bag surrounded by cold water and maybe ice so that the temperature is lowered quickly.

Meat is fine to be cooked and then refrigerated, your grocers refrigerator and freezer are full of pre-cooked meat. The problem is when it is heated and then cooled r e a l l y slowly in an aerobic environment.

"It's not going to be in my oven for nearly long enough to actually cook it through..." but you said "The turkey will be fully cooked" Not that I love this particular holiday [though gravy is my millieu] but are you sure it isn't the holiday, rather than food safety that is making you apprehenisve? You wouldn't be the first. It's not a bad thing.

Come to New Orleans and we can throw rocks into the Mississippi river and drink two types of gravy.
posted by vapidave at 4:35 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd probably eat it, but maybe it might be safer if she cooked it the day before and transported it cold, in the cooler - much as we are doing for my Mom's Thanksgiving, though we are only driving 1 hour. We plan to cook the (spare) turkey on Wednesday, slice and chill it and then rewarm it in a pan of broth at Mom's on Thursday.

And yes, as A Terrible Llama says, "Moms are crazy", but whatcha gonna do?
posted by sarajane at 4:46 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

y'all. There is a big --- an exponential ---- difference between the rate of bacterial growth at room temp and the rate of bacterial growth at blood-warm temp. According to op, this bird is coming out of an oven at about 170 degrees and going into a styrafoam cooler --- it's going to stay a lot warmer a lot longer than a bird left on the counter. I, too, have no hesitation about picking at the cooked turkey for hours after dinner is officially served. That's not OP's situation. The FDA can be a bunch of nervous nellies, but in this case I'm on their side.
posted by Diablevert at 4:49 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Is she packing it up warm, or cooling it and transporting it cold?
posted by J. Wilson at 4:49 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, like vapidave said- just let it get cold, if not actively cool it. I would cool it, put it in the trunk, or stick it in a chest with ice. Then you heat it up again anyway.

Definitely don't stuff it before this adventure.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:08 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I have spent many Thanksgiving nights / Black Fridays on the toilet with a bucket on my lap. I blame terrible, terrible ideas like leaving the turkey "warm" for hours.

Please, for the love of God, do not let your mom transport a full-size bird warm over 4 hours. As others have suggested, unless she can chop it up and cool it immediately, and keep that thing on ice during the trip, then you're asking for trouble.

I know, I know... some people have been eating raw hamburger out of the dumpster while smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for the last fifty years and they've never been sick. Fine. Pick your poison.

(And in your case, your poison will be Campylobacter).
posted by joebakes at 5:10 PM on November 23, 2014 [15 favorites]

NYC DOH Time as a public health control rules say serve within four hours, BUT the time you're really concerned with is time spent between 140F and 40F.

Serious Eats tried using a beer cooler as a sous vide cooker and found a cooler full of water at 150F-140F lost 1F/hr.

I would say, given these two pieces of information, that this turkey will be perfectly fine to eat (even by the rigorous standards of the NYC DOH) if it comes out of the oven and goes straight into the cooler.

At 1F per hour, you have 10 hours before it even enters the danger zone.
posted by clockwork at 5:13 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd probably eat it without a second thought, but I'd be more worried about the massive snowstorm headed up the East coast that day. At least she'll have something to eat if she gets stranded...
posted by grateful at 5:49 PM on November 23, 2014

Based on the forecast, she should leave as early as possible (Tuesday night?), relax and have pancakes Wednesday, and cook on Thursday as you both watch the snow.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:57 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I figured that this has probably been done a million times in the past, so I checked it out. Here are the Better Homes and Gardens tips on transporting a whole T-day turkey:

Tips for Traveling Turkeys
Roast the turkey in an oven set at 325 degrees F and no lower.
Check to see that the turkey thigh is 180 degrees F internal temperature, that the breast is 170 degrees F, and that the juices run clear.
Let the bird rest for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving it.
Remove the stuffing and let it cool to room temperature.
Completely carve all of the meat from the bird; divide the turkey meat into small containers or tightly sealed packages to expedite both chilling and reheating.
Immediately refrigerate the stuffing and turkey separately. (Or you can freeze it if you're cooking several days ahead of time. Even if you bought your turkey frozen, it's safe to re-freeze after it's been cooked.)
When you travel, pack the turkey and stuffing in an insulated cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. When you reach your destination, reheat the turkey and stuffing in a 325 degrees F oven or in a microwave until each reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Discard any foods that warm above refrigerator temperature (40 degrees F). Food poisoning bacteria grow rapidly at warm temperatures.

What Not to Do
NEVER partially cook a turkey at your house and then try to finish cooking it later.
NEVER put a turkey in the oven at a low temperature the night before you have to leave and think you can carry it, fully cooked, to your destination. It must be roasted at a temperature of 325 degrees F.
NEVER stuff or dress a raw bird and transport it for later cooking. Instead, make the stuffing ahead, chill it, carry it to your destination in an ice-packed cooler, then remove and bake it as soon as you can.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:02 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, thanks everyone. I will have an answer on Tuesday as to when my mom is coming down so we can work out the Turkey thing.
posted by Hactar at 7:27 PM on November 23, 2014

Dry ice will chill the turkey quickly once it has been carved. Put the dry ice under the meat, otherwise it will freeze too hard. The rapid freezing of dry ice will probably be better for the texture and moisture. Otherwise use a probe to make sure it stays above 140F and keep chucking in pocket handwarmers, I guess? That would be safe but the turkey would be made of sawdust at that point. Either way, brining or dry salting will be key to keep the meat moist.
posted by wnissen at 7:43 PM on November 23, 2014

One possible option that no one has mentioned yet: buy a turkey locally (or have your mother transport a raw one properly chilled), then roast it for only 45 minutes (plus a rest of 30 minutes) on Thursday.

How? Spatchcock! (Bonus video). If you want stuffing, that can be cooked around the bird or in a separate dish.
posted by maudlin at 8:01 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

If she puts it in the trunk of the car, it will likely be as cold as it would be in the regrigerater. I would totally eat it. Stick a (well sealed) bag of ice in the cavity if you like.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:08 PM on November 23, 2014

I'm unclear on why, if you'll have the ability to reheat the turkey at your house, why you're not just handling the turkey yourself. It takes almost as long to reheat a turkey as it does to cook a turkey.

Is this one of those weird mom boundary things where she's not ready to relinquish control over Thanksgiving despite not hosting it this year?
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing that I don't think has been addressed yet: Has your mother done this drive on Thanksgiving before? Because I have, and it took me close to 8 hours, even though it usually takes around 4. All the roads were basically a parking lot starting from as soon as I got on the Mass Pike. Worst drive ever.

Anyway, I would just factor in the possibility that this drive could go a lot slower than usual in making your decisions about handling things with the Turkey.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:17 PM on November 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

Here's what your mom should do:

1) Cook turkey.

2) Carve turkey.

3) Cool turkey slices completely (this can be hastened by putting the turkey in ziploc bags and putting in ice water).

4) Pack turkey on ice in cooler and drive to Boston.

5) At your house put turkey slices in slow cooker on low with turkey or chicken stock and heat until warmed through.

This method avoids any food safety hazards and your turkey should be pretty moist. You do lose the fun of carving, but it's the only way to cool the turkey quickly.
posted by katyggls at 9:40 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't understand all of the people who think this won't be safe! Please!!

As long as your mom washes her hands, doesn't lick the turkey, sneeze on it, or roll it on the floor first, it will be totally safe to eat.

NTHING that the weather is a problem and she should not travel Thursday morning. She really needs to show up with a cold raw turkey in the cooler to roast at your place.
posted by jbenben at 9:53 PM on November 23, 2014

Simple answer: Poultry food outside of the safety zone for more than four hours. No. Not unless you want a pants-shitting party.
posted by cmoj at 11:15 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Serious Eats tried using a beer cooler as a sous vide cooker and found a cooler full of water at 150F-140F lost 1F/hr.

This is emphatically NOT comparable to a cooler with just a turkey in it. 1) Think of how heavy a cooler full of water is. (Actually, don't just think of it, go watch some Ice Bucket Challenge videos that show people underestimating how heavy water is.) 2) Water has a tremendous specific heat capacity. The amount of heat loss that drops a cooler full of water 1 degree will drop a cooked turkey many many degrees.
posted by BrashTech at 5:13 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

One thing to consider, if you are concerned about the four-hour rule, is where she is coming from in the Boston area and where she is going to in the NYC area. You could probably get from, say, Norwood to Pelham in under four hours comfortably. I drive Brooklyn to Quincy several times a year, and it's usually about 4-4.5. Medford to Staten Island could easily be over five.

All that said - and I'm, admittedly, no food safety expert - this sounds unnecessarily risky to me.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:51 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just nthing the concerns about whether your mom can really make this trip in four hours. My son travels from Baltimore to NYC, which is a comparable trip. It always takes much longer if he travels on Thanksgiving day.

I guess this is a bit outside of the parameters of your question, but I also wonder why you don't just buy and cook a turkey yourself. I did it for the first time ever last year, and was amazed at how easy it is.
posted by merejane at 11:40 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone here. I talked her into coming down Wednesday night and she found an airbnb that allows pets (there is concern for at 12 year old dog). Turkey will be cooked in Brooklyn and then simply brought up to Morningside Heights. That sort of distance does not worry me.
posted by Hactar at 3:48 PM on November 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Glad you have worked this out. As someone who contracted salmonella at a very nice NYC restaurant on Thanksgiving (along with everyone else at the first seating, including the waitstaff) I just cringe when folks say: "No problemo" to questions like this. Thirteen people were admitted to the hospital that night, many others consulted their own physicians and I ... self-treated. I hate ER's.

Because of that, The Health Dept came knocking on my door (oh, hell, yes!) to identify the strain. What fun. :/

Have a healthy Thanksgiving everyone.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 8:38 PM on November 26, 2014

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