Thanksgiving Turkey Food Safety Tips

Thanksgiving Turkey Food Safety Tips

Thanksgiving is a holiday for enjoying friends, family and of course, lots of delicious food. With the many distractions of the holiday season it can be easy to overlook the importance of food safety. Safely handling, storing and preparing food is important to prevent foodborne illness, which can strike when food contaminated with harmful bacteria is eaten. Symptoms can vary but may include nausea, vomiting, fever or diarrhea and may lead to more severe problems for those with a compromised immune system or young children, pregnant women and older adults. To help ensure your Thanksgiving meal is a success and free of foodborne illness, follow these food safety tips:

Plan Ahead
Plan your menu several weeks before the holiday. Shopping early will ease the countdown tension for your Thanksgiving meal. Ask these questions to help plan your meal. Do you want a fresh or frozen turkey? Do you have enough space to store a frozen bird if purchased in advance; if not, when should you purchase a turkey? What size bird do you need to buy?

Fresh or Frozen
If you choose to buy a frozen bird you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only 1-2 days before cooking. Do not buy a pre-stuffed fresh turkey.

Thawing In the refrigerator
Place frozen bird in original wrapper in the refrigerator (40 °F or below). Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

Thawing In cold water
If you forget to thaw the turkey or don't have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don't panic. You can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.

Thawing In the microwave
Microwave thawing is safe if the turkey is not too large. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven, the minutes per pound, and the power level to use for thawing. Cook immediately after thawing.

Preparation: The day before Thanksgiving
Make sure you have all the ingredients you need to prepare your holiday meal. Check to make sure you have all the equipment you will need, including a roasting pan large enough to hold your turkey and a food thermometer. Wet and dry stuffing ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated separately. This may also be done on Thanksgiving Day. Mix ingredients just before placing the stuffing inside the turkey cavity or into a casserole dish.

Preparation: Thanksgiving Day
If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place stuffed turkey in oven immediately. You may also cook the stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Judging cooking time for your turkey will be easier if the following chart is used. The times listed are for a fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325 °F. These times are approximate.

UNSTUFFED (time in hours)

 4 to 6 lb. breast …… 1 1/2 to 2 1/4

 6 to 8 lb. breast …… 2 1/4 to 3 1/4

 8 to 12 lbs. …………  2 3/4 to 3

12 to 14 lbs. ………… 3 to 3 3/4

14 to 18 lbs. ………… 3 3/4 to 4 1/4

18 to 20 lbs. ………… 4 1/4 to 4 1/2

20 to 24 lbs. ………… 4 1/2 to 5

STUFFED (time in hours)

 8 to 12 lbs. …… 3 to 3 1/2

12 to 14 lbs. …… 3 1/2 to 4

14 to 18 lbs. …… 4 to 4 1/4

18 to 20 lbs. …… 4 1/4 to 4 3/4

20 to 24 lbs. …… 4 3/4 to 5 1/4

Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey.
A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 °F. The stuffing should reach 165 °F, whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish. When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes. Remove stuffing and carve turkey.

Storing Leftovers
Cut the turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze these foods. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming.

Tips Adapted from USDA Food Safety Fact Sheet: Countdown to the Thanksgiving Holiday

For a delicious stuffing that will compliment your holiday turkey, try Almond Brown Rice Stuffing. Each serving provides a great source of whole grain and fiber.

Choose Your Store Location


Use the search option below to locate a store near you.