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Power Outages and Other Threats to the Perfect Turkey Dinner

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A nasty storm is threatening Thanksgiving travel plans across the country, but that's not all you should be worried about. If the power goes out, it could mean bad news for the turkey, too.

If the power blows while your bird is in the oven, you have 30 minutes to get it to a new cooking location so that bacteria don't start to grow, said Tina Hanes, a registered dietitian and nurse at U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry hotline.

Your best bet is to move it to an outdoor grill and barbecue the bird, she said. If you don't have a grill, maybe your neighbor does. After all, this holiday is a time for sharing and giving, right?

"That's kind of a popular [way] to cook a turkey nowadays," Hanes said. "Just leave it in the oven until the preheated grill is ready and then transfer the turkey to the grill to finish cooking."

Here are some more turkey tips from Hanes.

Keep bacteria off the menu.

The basic rule of thumb to prevent bacterial growth is keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, Hanes said.

Use your meat thermometer to make sure you don't let any cooked food wind up in the danger zone -- between 40 degrees to 140 degrees -- for more than two hours. That's the ideal temperature range for bacteria to grow. (This means you shouldn't leave leftovers out too long, either.)

If you're cooking early ...

If you get cooking out of the way early -- heating the turkey to 165 degrees inside -- USDA guidelines recommend against letting it stand outside the oven for more than 20 minutes.

Carve that turkey, sprinkle it with broth and store it in the refrigerator until it's ready to eat. When your guests arrive, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and reheat it.

You can keep it in the oven at a lower temperature of 140-200 degrees, but only do that for a short time. If you go for longer than a couple of hours after the turkey is done, your food is going to dry out.

How long can I store a turkey?

The No. 1 question Hanes receives from hotline callers is, "How long is my turkey safe to eat?"

If it's frozen, the answer is indefinitely, Hanes said. If you got a turkey on sale last year after the holiday, it's all right to use it this year.

But don't wait much longer. Hanes said even though it's safe to eat, she recommends cooking a frozen turkey within a year for best quality, since exposed parts of the bird could get freezer burn.

"We sometimes get consumers who call and say they have had their turkey in their freezer for four years," said Hanes, adding that USDA hotline calls peak the week of Thanksgiving to 1,000 calls a day. "We'll say, 'Yes, it's safe, but for quality reasons, you may want to save that for yourself as a weeknight dinner and buy one from the store for Thanksgiving dinner.'"

What if I bought a fresh turkey?

With a fresh turkey shortage and a later-than-usual Thanksgiving, it may be a good thing you didn't buy a fresh one.

"We say a fresh turkey can remain in the refrigerator for just two days," said Hanes.

Yup, that's it -- just two days. If it has already been two days, you can still safely freeze it.

How do I know if my turkey is spoiled?

The nose knows, Hanes said. If your turkey has been stored in your refrigerator for too long and gone bad, it may smell like rotten eggs or sulfur, and the juices are probably slimy.

"It's better to be safe," Hanes said. "Serve food that's safe rather than a turkey that could make a family member sick."

Does a frozen turkey have to thaw?

Nope, Hanes said. You can cook a frozen turkey without thawing it. Just know that it will take 50 percent more time to cook.

Just don't forget to remove the giblets package with tongs or a fork once the cavity has thawed out a little in the oven.

What if I want to thaw it?

There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave oven, Hanes said.

If you are thawing in the refrigerator, keep it in its original wrapper and place it on a tray to catch leaking juices.

If you are thawing the bird in cold water, allow approximately 30 minutes of thaw time per pound. In this case, you want to wrap your turkey tightly so that no water can seep in through the wrapping. Dunk the turkey in cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes.

Microwave thawing may be the trickiest because, first of all, you need to make sure your turkey fits in the microwave. And if it's bigger than 12 or 14 pounds, you may be out of luck.

If it fits, you will need to rotate it based on the directions in your microwave oven owner's manual. Turkey parts are easier to thaw in a microwave than a whole turkey.

Got questions? There's a USDA hotline.

Thanksgiving week is the busiest season for the USDA's Meat and Poultry hotline (888-MP-HOTLINE), which answers consumers' food safety questions.

The hotline is open year-round, and staff will be available on Thanksgiving Day to answer your questions from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET. You can also go to AskKaren.gov for answers to your other food safety questions.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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