Should I Eat It: Holiday Edition
November 20, 2015 5:24 AM   Subscribe

So I screwed up. We're having early Thanksgiving this weekend. My wife picked up a local turkey, frozen, stored it in a refrigerator, and gave it to me to take home and do either a sink thaw or put it in our fridge. "Don't leave it in the car," she said. Guess what?

I live in the Little Rock, AR area. Looking at the weather last night, it was down in the 40s (F, obviously) pretty much all night. Dipped down to a low of about 38. Turkey was in the wrapper in a somewhat-insulated shopping bag all night. I have zero idea how frozen it was when I put it in the car last night (around 12 hours ago), but I'm guessing the answer was mostly/totally.

The surface of the turkey this morning is cold. I've got it in the fridge now. It was in the car all night. My instincts are that this thing is fine, and that as long as I unwrap it and it doesn't stink, and I cook it properly, we're fine. I'm guessing that the temperature of a sink thaw would be on par with its conditions last night, only the thaw would be faster since water conducts heat better than air.

But I'd rather not paralyze or murder family members this holiday season, so I thought I'd ask to be sure. What are my odds on making holiday memories here?
posted by middleclasstool to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would eat that. Do reach in and see how cold the cavity is; it's likely still at least partially frozen.
posted by theora55 at 5:28 AM on November 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's probably just as dangerous now as it would be if you had done a sink thaw. Your wife is going to kill you. You did the one thing she asked you not to do. Just go to the store and buy a fresh, unfrozen turkey. It's the safest choice and, if you also pick up flowers and a bottle of wine, it could save you from a frozen Thanksgiving.
posted by myselfasme at 5:42 AM on November 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

Best answer: USDA says not to leave the turkey anywhere temperature conditions cannot be monitored. I would shrug, and consider whether the cold car plus semi-insulated bag plus partially-frozen insides was comparable to a refrigerator that gets opened on a frequent basis, and then cook the thing. (I also cross my fingers that local poultry generally has a lower incidence of salmonella than large-scale factory birds.)

Also, promise me that you'll listen to "Dave Cooks the Turkey" as penance.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:58 AM on November 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm pretty conservative on these things, but turkeys have a lot of mass. If it was mostly frozen, it stayed cold at ambient temperatures under 50F. You are going to cook it soon. You are going to cook that sucker all the way through, and the outside (least cold) is going to be the first cooked. I'd eat it.

But tell wife ASAP, and if she says different, do whatever she says.
posted by zennie at 6:05 AM on November 20, 2015 [14 favorites]

Cooking it properly is what matters.
posted by Segundus at 6:10 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

So, the temperatures outside were roughly in the neighborhood (perhaps even a bit lower, at their coldest) as a proper refrigerator would be? I wouldn't even think twice about the safety of that turkey. Cook it, eat it, enjoy it.
posted by ronofthedead at 6:15 AM on November 20, 2015 [20 favorites]

Maybe you could freeze this turkey, go buy a new one to serve your guests, and then cook the car-bird later to be used for casseroles and such?

I agree that it's probably OK, but at least that way you'd take the risk of food poisoning on yourself.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:17 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's fine, especially if it's still partially frozen and was kept in an insulated bag. Generations of people thawed turkeys on the kitchen counter even, and lived to tell about it; yours is probably safer than thawing it in the kitchen sink which would have been an even warmer environment. Just cook it till a thermometer registers 165 or higher & that'll kill off any surface germs. Don't serve it medium rare.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 6:22 AM on November 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've driven a frozen thanksgiving turkey 8+ hours in the trunk and eaten it with no consequences more than once.
posted by jeather at 6:27 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Anyone coming who has aa compromised immune system or prone to stomach issues? I'd personally eat it, but I was raised on sink thawed everything, so assuming your car wasn't in a heated garage, this is probably the same level if risk (maybe even less). I'd hesitate to serve it to others, especially if I don't know them well enough to know their own personal level of comfort regarding food safety (or if I knew that they were risk averse in general) or health history. I like the idea if using it for yourself (maybe make turkey stock?) and getting a fresh one for the main event.
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:43 AM on November 20, 2015

Response by poster: Car was in the driveway all night, not in a heated garage. I feel like we're okay, especially seeing the response here, so basically my plan right now is to take an extremely early lunch (turkey's in the office fridge right now), drive the thing home, inspect it, and throw it in my own fridge if it's good.

Regardless, yes, I'm coming clean to my wife. If she insists on dumping it, we dump it.

I will report back after all the inspecting and groveling, in whatever order they may occur.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:47 AM on November 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

If it's ok to brine a turkey in a garage, leaving it sealed in a car overnight should be fine too. Alton Brown did a radio interview a year or three ago where he said the garage is probably fine for combination brining/defrosting. Granted, there are a lot more warnings from food safety experts not to brine a turkey in the garage, but always let your confirmation bias be your guide.
posted by mattamatic at 6:48 AM on November 20, 2015

Would eat.

Also, Metafilter: always let your confirmation bias be your guide.
posted by hollyholly at 7:02 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's going well so far.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:13 AM on November 20, 2015 [16 favorites]

Yeah, I'd eat it. And I wouldn't have told my wife.
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:06 AM on November 20, 2015

Response by poster: Honesty is the best policy in any marriage, especially when your wife texts you asking WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TURKEY?!?!?

All is well. There were some ice crystals on the underside of the bird, and the inside cavity was still somewhat frozen, as were the neckbone and giblets stuffed inside. So I unwrapped it, salted the fuck out of it, and put it
In the fridge.

Our absurdly-priced turkey is now the beneficiary of a holiday miracle! Or a run-of-the-mill application of thermodynamics. Whichever.

So I made my amends, and order is restored at Chez Tool. Thanks!
posted by middleclasstool at 8:19 AM on November 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

Happy Thanksgiving. Tell your wife the Internet said to eat the turkey. It will be fine.
posted by beagle at 8:29 AM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: as long as I unwrap it and it doesn't stink

Glad it worked out, but I'd like to point out for future reference that taste and smell are not reliable indicators of food safety.

thought I'd save fffm the trouble
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:45 AM on November 20, 2015 [15 favorites]

If it's ok to brine a turkey in a garage, leaving it sealed in a car overnight should be fine too. Alton Brown did a radio interview a year or three ago where he said the garage is probably fine for combination brining/defrosting.

Just a note, brining is done with ice, so the bird stays at near-freezing temp throughout the process.

I would also eat this turkey. It was cold enough outside, about as cold (or colder than) your fridge. Turkeys often take days and days to defrost so I really doubt any part of it got into the danger zone. But caveat eator, of course.
posted by Miko at 9:13 AM on November 20, 2015

An $80 turkey? Wow. From your description, you're almost certainly fine. I'd go with it.

Just to be on the safe side, though - after cooking and serving, don't let it sit out for people to piece on forever. Put it away - they can snack from the fridge.
posted by stormyteal at 10:01 AM on November 20, 2015

Bad news for you about local turkey, at least if it's processed on farm. APPPA or Americans Pastured Poultry Producers' Association, did a preliminary study and found that about 15% of factory birds have salmonella present and about 85% of farm-processed birds have salmonella.

I don't have an online citation for this as, as far as I can tell, but the very preliminary study was only published in thier trade journal Grit. Bear in mind that they are an organization for hippy, local producers so I'm inclined to trust them when they say bad things about their own product.

And, for the record, I'm a small, hippy farmer who has processed and sold thousands of birds on farm. And who has eaten raw chicken.

And eat your turkey. It was stored in what I call the walk-out cooler. Which is what you do when you run out of room in the fridge but it's cold enough to just store things outside.
posted by stet at 10:20 AM on November 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'd eat it, and I'm pretty risk averse as far as food poisoning goes.

Maybe your wife wanted you to be sure not to leave the turkey outside so it would be able to have enough time to thaw? As you have found, thawing a turkey takes a long time.
posted by yohko at 12:03 PM on November 20, 2015

I would cook it very thoroughly, and eat it. I would carve meat for the very young/very old/immunocompromised first (uncontaminated knife etc) from well-cooked outside bits. I would cook any accompanying stuffing separately, so that it doesn't accidentally prevent the spread of the heat.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:51 PM on November 20, 2015

That advice doesn't make much sense - the outside is the part likeliest to have been exposed to warmth and foster the growth of bacteria. Basically, if you're afraid, toss the whole turkey. Don't imagine some of the turkey is safer than the rest of the turkey.

People are nicely offering precautions, but they don't know what they're talking about (sorry, they don't). My decision to eat it would be totally based on the fact your turkey was never in the danger zone. The way to look at it is, your turkey's either contaminated now or it's not (as is true of all poultry) and your cooking method and serving method doesn't need to be adjusted to influence the outcome as long as you're being sure it hits 165F internally (the recommended temp) and handling it properly. Those guidelines were put in place to protect people against the very real presence of salmonella on a lot of poultry, as noted above, and they're enough to be reliable. And you should never cook stuffing inside a bird.

If you're right about last night's temperature, you just don't have much reason to worry; but these other risk-management suggestions are based on nothing but folk wisdom that has no protective power at all. At this point you're likely to overcook the thing out of fear and have dry tasteless turkey no one eats, which is also a waste of $80. Your turkey was almost overwhelmingly likely in the safe zone the entire time. Don't go nuts.
posted by Miko at 3:32 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I saw this question on my way to work and showed it to chef. He supported my initial reaction: you're probably fine to eat it, do not under any circumstances serve to anyone who is or may be immunocompromised, just in case.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:46 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would probably eat this turkey but really, you f@cked up. Start over with a fresh bird. If it was just you eating it, fine ...but serving it to other people, different story.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:54 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

85% of farm-processed birds have salmonella

Salmonella is killed by cooking to temperature.

Turkey breast and wings and legs are always overcooked if you roast the overall turkey to temperature. This is purely due to mass. The only way to prevent that is to cut the bird up before cooking or to get a really small turkey.

Whatever, Thanksgiving is all about the sides and the pie anyway!
posted by zennie at 7:26 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Salmonella is killed by cooking to temperature.

Quoted for truth.

Now I am curious about what Miko wrote: And you should never cook stuffing inside a bird. The link doesn't really say that. It says that if you stuff the bird, you need to cook it immediately.
The reason I'm curious is that I really, really don't like turkey because it is dry and tastes like pork with no fat. So the only way a whole turkey becomes palatable in my view is because a lovely stuffing within the bird can add fat and juices and complex taste. Maybe you need to add butter under the skin as well. When I (rarely) cook a turkey, I prefer to deconstruct it completely, prepare breast and legs separately, use the carcass for a stock which becomes a gravy, and then add a lot of bacon to all elements. This, however does not make a Norman Rockwell festivity experience. And sometimes I might be hosting homesick Americans..
posted by mumimor at 1:02 PM on November 21, 2015

It says that if you stuff the bird, you need to cook it immediately.

OK. But I just don't do it. It makes the turkey take longer to come up to safe temp and I think that contributes to overcooking, as does Alton Brown.

I stick a half onion and a half apple in the turkey cavity and I also coat it liberally with butter under the skin. Also, I brine it. All these things make it turn out great and I really don't have dry turkey breast, probably due to the brine. We don't really eat the wings and legs at Thanksgiving - nobody likes them that much - so I just set it aside after carving and dice up the dark meat for soup, etc. I make gravy from the neck simmered in water to create a light stock, plus pan juices. I know deconstructing is what people do if they're really really serious about getting perfectly done turkey in all the parts, but I've never had that kind of audience and since we pretty much eat only the breast at the meal, that seems to work OK.
posted by Miko at 2:54 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Follow-up: Everything was fine. Well, sorta.

We had a turnout of somewhere in the ballpark of 18 people. Due to my paranoia, I slightly overcooked the bird just to be safe. I knew if I poisoned anyone, my mother would never stop haunting me, and she's not even dead yet. Roasted/braised, served with your choice of the braising liquid or gravy.

Yesterday, my wife and daughter both starting barfing with vigor. It was a hellish evening of Clorox wipes/spray, Pedialyte, holding hair back, and a Walgreen's pharmacy staff that had elevated dragging ass and avoiding eye contact to a level of tantric mastery.

However, we're pretty confident that it was a bug. I was the first to taste the bird by about an hour, I took good-sized samples from every part of it (I was half-stuffed by the time I got the bird over to my sister-in-law's), and I and everyone else at the dinner came away just fine. My wife got sick hours before our daughter, so it looks like this is something she brought home from a shopping cart handle or the like. They are now recovering at home, feeling much improved already. Thanks, Zofran!

Everyone else was fine, so success, I guess. Now I'll have just enough time to recover before going up to my parents' tomorrow and doing it all over again.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by middleclasstool at 6:17 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Miko at 9:40 AM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

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