Consumers’ most often asked questions about food safety are about turkey,say officials at theU.S. Department of Agriculture FoodSafety and Inspection Service.”Most people probably don’t cook turkey very often, and they want tomake sure they do itcorrectly,” said Judy Harrison, an extensionfood safety specialist with the Universityof Georgia.Safe turkey dinners, she said, start in the store.”Always check the labels carefully before you buy a turkey,” Harrisonsaid.Although federal regulations don’t require product dating, many storesand processors mayvoluntarily date packages of turkey.Usually date labels will be “sell by,” “best if used by,” or “use by.”They tell the store how longto display the product and the shopper how long its peak quality lasts.But product dates aren’t guides for the safe use of turkey. You mustfollow safe handlingguidelines, too.”Make sure you don’t keep the turkey in the car too long after you buyit or it could warm up toa temperature that will allow bacteria to grow,” Harrison said. “Makethe grocery store the last stopbefore you go home.”Once you are home, put the turkey in the refrigerator at 40 degreesFahrenheit, or freeze it at zero degrees Fahrenheit immediately.”You can generally keep fresh turkey in the refrigerator for one totwo days safely,” Harrison said.”Cooked turkey is usually safe for three to four days.”For best quality, cook and use frozen turkey within nine to 12 months.Turkey is known to have carried some food-borne illness-causing organisms,includingSalmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus andListeria monocytogenes.Salmonella, one of the most common food-borne pathogens associated withpoultry, may be foundin the intestinal tracts of livestock, poultry and many other warm-bloodedanimals, and inside fresheggs.”People become infected with Salmonella when they ingest the live bacteria,”Harrison said. “Thebacteria then reproduce in the small intestines and can cause nausea,diarrhea, abdominal pains andfever.”Thorough cooking destroys Salmonella bacteria.Food-borne illness is often introduced to your meal when you defrostthe turkey.”Either defrost the turkey in the refrigerator, in cold water or inthe microwave,” Harrison said.”Never defrost a turkey on the counter top.”When defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator, plan ahead for slow, safethawing. Allow about oneday for every five pounds of turkey.If you defrost it in cold water, make sure it’s in an airtight packageor leak-proof bag. Submergethe bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30minutes to be sure it stays cold.Only microwave-thaw a turkey if you plan to cook it right away. Someparts of the meat may getwarm enough to allow bacteria to grow quickly.If your holiday plans don’t include cooking, and you plan to have yourdinner cooked elsewhere,use these precautions: Reheating a whole turkey is not recommended.If you have more questions about how to safely prepare your holiday meal,call the countyextension office or the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555.If you’re on-line, check the USDA FoodSafety and Inspection Service Home Page. If dinner is picked up or delivered hot, the food must be kept at140 degrees Fahrenheit or above and eaten within two hours. It’s not agood idea to try to keep foods hot longer than two hours. If holding the foods longer than two hours, remove all stuffingfrom the turkey cavity, divide the turkey into smaller pieces and refrigerateeverything in separate, shallow containers. Reheat it thoroughly to aninternal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, using a meat thermometerto check. If the dinner is prepared, but refrigerated when you pick it up,keep it cold. Refrigerate immediately when you get home (always withintwo hours). Serve the meal within two days.