Thanksgiving looms, and let’s face it: This holiday can hardly happen without Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Minnesota will raise an estimated 45 million turkeys in 2014, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. That makes the state tops in the nation, followed by North Carolina (35 million), Arkansas (29 million), Indiana (17 million), Missouri (17 million), and Virginia (16 million).
Turkeys are of course raised all year, and the U.S. is the world’s largest turkey producer and largest exporter of turkey products. About 242 million turkeys are forecast to be grown in the United States in 2014. Federal number crunchers estimate that 46 million of the big birds will show up on American tables on Thursday, most of them from turkey production farms.
There are also more than 7 million wild turkeys across the U.S., thanks in part to habitat restoration efforts by the National Wild Turkey Federation, the U.S. Forest Service, and state conservation agencies. Wild turkeys nearly faced extinction in the 1930s.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is the national leader in growing cranberries. It will produce 538 million pounds, according to federal estimates, followed by Massachusetts at 210 million pounds. New Jersey, Oregon and Washington expect harvests ranging from 16 to 55 million pounds.
It takes hours to thaw a frozen turkey, especially if it’s large. Federal labeling laws define “frozen” as a turkey that has been cooled to zero degrees Fahrenheit. or lower. “Fresh,” on the other hand, means the turkey has never been chilled below 26 degrees Fahrenheit.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issues recommendations on how to properly prepare a turkey that is delicious and safe to serve.
One of the requirements is to keep raw turkey separate from all other food at all times, and not to wash it in a way that spreads pathogens onto kitchen surfaces. Washing hands, cutting boards, plates and utensils when handling raw turkey is critical to avoid cross-contamination, officials say.
And for those who are impatient, 165 degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number that signifies a turkey is fully cooked. Experts suggest using a food thermometer to check a turkey’s temperature in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.