USDA offers a real turkey of a Web site

Looking for some good gobbler gab to accompany Thanksgiving gobbler gobbling? Then dig in to the Agriculture Department's World Wide Web site (www.usda.gov) which serves up a mind-boggling array of statistics on turkeys including tips on thawing cooking and storage.

The USDA home page which is graphically rather humdrum presents Web cruisers with a simple interface. The page features only six buttons including a powerful search mechanism that scans all the online information posted by USDA agencies ranging from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

Type "turkey" into the search field and up pops a list that runs to 36 printed pages of information on what FSIS defines as "a large widely domesticated North American bird with white plumage and a bare wattled neck." This description comes from the well-written and fact-filled online FSIS pamphlet "Food Safety of Turkey...From Farm to Table " which offers safety and cooking information.

The FSIS folks don't want to leave anything to chance so they also offer online tips for turkey thawing in a file logically named "bigthaw." Although this file offers tips on the relatively fast cold-water or microwave thawing methods Bessie Berry of the USDA Meat and Poultry hot line said "It's best to plan ahead and thaw food in the refrigerator where food will remain at a safe and constant temperature."

Berry who does not mince words when talking turkey warns against just thawing the bird out on the kitchen counter as the outer layers can approach the "danger zone" of temperatures at which bacteria rapidly multiply.

In addition to this sound advice the USDA Web site offers reams of statistics to spice up Thanksgiving dinner conversations. According to FAS Israel outdoes the United States in per capita turkey consumption with Israelis consuming a projected 11.7 kilograms per person in 1997 vs. a mere 8.9 kilograms per person in the United States.

The fact that FAS presents all these statistics in kilograms in itself offers a conversational bonus: It will allow wise parents to wow impressionable tykes with kilogram-to-pound conversions done on-the-fly.The USDA home page also offers a wonderful use for the tons of food Americans waste. Click on the "What's New" button on the USDA home page and then click again on the "National Summit on Gleaning and Food Recovery Announcements and Accomplishments" button to tap into a new project spearheaded by Vice President Al Gore. Announced in September the project's goal is to feed 450 000 Americans by ensuring that food is not wasted.

Sparsely covered by the mainstream press the USDA provides a lot of information on the gleaning and food-recovery project on the Food and Consumer Service Web page (www.usda.gov/fcs/library/0315.htm). This site not only talks turkey it showcases efforts to make sure that the food wealth gets spread around.

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