With Thanksgiving around the corner, many families have started making their hosting plans, and one big item on the to-do list is preparing the turkey.

Whether they are making a turkey for the first time and a pro at it, the Thanksgiving chefs are always concerned with it being perfect for a day when loved ones gather to reflect on their blessings and express their thanks.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) say this may be the largest meal cooked all year, so they're sharing a few reminders for how to do it safely.

Luckily for me, I get to rely on my husband, who takes the lead in preparing and cooking the turkey and all the wonderful side dishes. I was not blessed with the greatest cooking skills, which makes me wonder, what if I were in charge of turkey preparation? Would I undercook or overcook a turkey? Is that even possible?

USDA officials say yes.

“Unsafe handling and undercooking of your turkey can lead to serious food-borne illness,” said Al Almanza, deputy under secretary for food safety at the USDA. “Turkeys may contain salmonella and campylobacter, harmful pathogens that are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking a turkey.”

The USDA shared these tips:

Tip 1: Don’t wash that turkey 

That's because bacteria in raw meat juices can spread around the cooking area. Besides, USDA officials note, cooking the turkey at the right temperature — whether you are baking, broiling, boiling, frying or grilling it — kills the bacteria.

Tip 2: Use the refrigerator, the cold-water method, or the microwave to defrost a frozen turkey 

Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because the turkey will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. However, it does take time.

To thaw the turkey in the fridge, USDA officials say allow one day for each five pounds of weight. However, if you use the cold water or microwave methods, it must be done immediately before you start cooking the turkey.

Tip 3: Use a meat thermometer

According to Almanza, “a whole turkey should be checked in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. Your thermometer should register 165 degrees in each of these places. The juices rarely run clear at this temperature, and when they do, the bird is often overcooked.” 

Tip 4: Don’t store food outside even if it’s cold

It’s not safe because it can lure animals, whether it’s your pet or wild ones drawn in by the delicious smell. Also, you can’t trust the varying temperatures outside. 

Tip 5: Leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days 

USDA officials strongly recommend that if you plan to keep leftovers, you should cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it within two hours of the bird coming out of the oven.

Leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator. But if you want it to last longer, pack the leftover turkey into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze. And even that won’t last forever.

USDA officials suggest that for the best quality, use your frozen leftover turkey within four months.

BEST WISHES: Bakersfield saw the return of one of its local talents recently, only to now see her fly away again.

I’m referring to Nicole Parra, a local Latina leader and former state assemblywoman.

Parra recently served as campaign manager for Measure J, the $502.8 million Kern Community College District bond voters approved Nov. 8.

Parra was recently hired by Tesoro Oil Company, a Fortune 100 company based in San Antonio, Texas. She starts this week as the company’s government relations and public affairs manager in California, working in Sacramento.  

“I am looking forward to working with members of the state legislature and representatives in the executive branch,” Parra said. “In addition, I cannot wait to reconnect with many of my friends who are still working in Sacramento."

It will be a new chapter for her, having returned home for a few years and worked locally. Parra also taught political science classes at Cal State Bakersfield.

She said she will miss many things about Bakersfield, especially her family.

“My family has always been close," Parra said. "But the unconditional love and support I received from my parents during the last five years will stay with me forever. Their love for family and community, and my mother's unbreakable strength to believe in the Lord and never give up when things don't always go our way.”

Parra’s father is former Kern County Supervisor Pete Parra and her brother is a teacher at Highland High School.

“My brother, Peter, his wife, Erin, and my three nephews blessed me with kindness and laughter,” Parra said. “I am so proud of the young men my nephews are turning out to be.” 

She says she will also miss her friends “who give so much to the community. Blodgie Rodriguez, Michael Bowers, Norma Rojas-Mora, Magda Menendez and Connie Perez, they inspire me so much. Mark Martinez and Wendy Avila recruited me to teach at Cal State University Bakersfield.

"(I’ve enjoyed) teaching the next generation about how our government works but most importantly, teaching them that people bring about change. People who are willing to make sacrifices to better the lives of others are the real heroes in our community.”

Parra says she plans to return home and visit when she can.

“I am proud of my Kern County roots,” she said. “I look forward to the next chapter in my life and I hope wherever I live I make a positive impact in my community.  

“Lastly, I am excited to live closer to the Oakland Raiders.”

Email contributing columnist Olivia Garcia at oliviagarcia2@icloud.com. The views expressed are her own.

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