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The extended Baker family is coming to my house next week, and I can't wait.

I love hosting Thanksgiving. To me, it's a matter of coordinating a bunch of great food, places for people to sit, and football.

It's kind of a potluck affair at our table. We do have some (internal) arguments over what to serve: I love to eat turkey, but not many of the others like it so much. 

Back in my youth, in Minneapolis, my family included five kids and we had a big turkey, baked with stuffing inside it. In those days, however, I mostly remember the rolls. I still love those buttery little rolls!

Today, the good folks at the Iowa Department of Health in Des Moines sent out tips on how to prepare turkeys, safely. 

Food handling is a real issue in many homes, and the state tracks food poisoning cases. Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, state medical director, says the next two months are a time when food poisoning is a real challenge for the state's residents.

For information on safe Thanksgiving meal preparation, visit this neat website.

For tips on preparing the big meal, see below:

Preparation:

• Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140°F, which is the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the temperature "danger zone." There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey.

o Refrigerator:

 Plan ahead; allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40°F or below.

 Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.

 A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one or two days before cooking.

o Cold water thawing:

 Allow about 30 minutes per pound.

 Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

 Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

o Microwave:

 Follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instructions when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.

The storage of turkey and other meal leftovers is just as important as the preparation. Here are some basic guidelines:

• It is important to take out all of the stuffing from the turkey soon after you remove the bird from the oven. Extra stuffing can be kept hot in the oven at 200°F while you eat, or should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. Cut the turkey meat off the bones.

• From the time you take the turkey out of the oven, you have two hours to serve it, eat it, and then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers - the turkey, stuffing and gravy. Why just two hours? Because bacteria that cause food poisoning can multiply to dangerous levels on perishable food left longer than two hours at room temperature.

• Store leftovers properly to prevent bacterial growth. Large quantities should be divided into smaller portions and stored in several small or shallow covered containers. That’s because food in small amounts will get cold more quickly. The temperature of the refrigerator should be 40°F or slightly below.

• Use refrigerated cooked turkey within three to four days.

• Use stuffing and gravy within one to two days.

• Eat leftover casseroles and cooked vegetables within three to four days.

• Reheat leftovers to 165°F. Bring leftover gravy to a rolling boil on the stove before serving it a second time.

• Finish fruit and cream pies within two to three days and cheesecake within seven days.

Regardless of how many days have passed, if in doubt, throw it out! 

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