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Preparing Your Holiday Turkey Safely

Posted by Jordan Travis | Nov 21, 2022

Thanksgiving is in a few days and cooking a turkey can be a daunting task. Below are some tips on how to prepare your turkey safely this year.

Storing your turkey properly:

  • Frozen raw turkey should be stored in the freezer until you are ready to thaw it;
    • Make sure your freezer is at 0 degrees fahrenheit or below.
    • Do not store a turkey in a place where you cannot closely monitor the temperature, such as in a car trunk, a basement, the back porch, or in snow.
  • Fresh raw turkey can be stored in the refrigerator 1-2 days before cooking;

Thawing your turkey safely:

  • Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator;
    • Keep the turkey in its wrapping and place it in a container or on a pan before putting it in the refrigerator. This will prevent the turkey's juice from dripping onto other food.
    • Allow about 24 hours of thawing time for each 5 pounds of turkey.
    • A turkey that is thawed in the refrigerator can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking.
  • Thawing your turkey in cold water;
    • Make sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag before it is placed in the sink.
      • The bag will prevent the turkey's juice from spreading in the kitchen.
      • The bag will also prevent the turkey from absorbing water.
    • Make sure the turkey is fully covered with the cold tap water.
    • Change the water every 30 minutes.
    • Allow about 30 minutes of thawing for each pound of turkey.
    • A turkey thawed in cold water must be cooked immediately after it is thawed.
  • NEVER thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter;
    • When a turkey stays out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, its temperature becomes unsafe.
    • Germs can grow rapidly in the "danger zone" between 40 degrees and 140 degrees fahrenheit.

Proper handling of the turkey to prevent the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling turkey;
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw turkey;
  • Never place cooked or fresh produce on a place, cutting board, or other surface that held raw turkey;
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing raw turkey before you prepare the next item;
  • Do not wash or rinse raw turkey;

Cook stuffing thoroughly:

  • The safest method of cooking stuffing is in a casserole dish instead of inside your turkey. This makes it easy to be sure the stuffing is thoroughly cooked;
  • If you do cook the stuffing in the turkey, place the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking;
  • No matter what method above you choose to cook your stuffing, us a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing's center reaches 165 degrees fahrenheit;

Cook the turkey thoroughly:

  • To roast a turkey in your oven, set the oven temperature to at least 325 degrees fahrenheit;
    • Place the completely thawed turkey in a roasting pan.
    • Cooking times depend on the weight of the turkey and whether it is stuffed (see above).
    • Use a food thermometer to make sure they turkey has reached a safe minimum cooking temperature of 165 degrees fahrenheit (make sure to check the temperature at the center of the stuffing, the thickest part of the breast, thigh and wing).
  • If you are cooking your turkey using another method, like smoking or frying it, or roasting a turkey that has not fully thawed, please see these guidelines for cooking the turkey safely;

We wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Please remember to drive safely and do not drive impaired.

About the Author

Jordan Travis

Jordan M. Travis - Jordan observed first-hand the practice of law while growing up in Colorado. He attended the University of Colorado Boulder, graduating #1 in his class, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a minor in Leadership. Jordan also attended the University of Colorado ...

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