If you’re going to be cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
1. Thaw it the right way. Proper thawing takes time; don’t wait until the last minute! The safest way to thaw your bird is in the refrigerator. The rule of thumb is 24 hours in the fridge for every 5 pounds. For example, if your bird is 20 pounds, begin thawing it at least 4 days before Thanksgiving to ensure that it’s ready to cook when the day comes. DO NOT THAW YOUR TURKEY AT ROOM TEMPERATURE by leaving it sitting out overnight. This is a surefire way to encourage bacterial growth.
2. Cook it to the proper temperature. Poultry – including turkey – is one food type that is very susceptible to contamination. In fact, odds are your turkey is contaminated when you buy it. But don’t fear! Cooking your turkey to the proper temperature will ensure a safe meal. All poultry, including those that are stuffed, must be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit and be able to hold that temperature for at least 15 seconds. Check the temperature by inserting a meat thermometer like this one into the thickest part of the bird – namely, the breast. Be sure to check the stuffing temperature, too! (NOTE: This temperature is for food safety purposes only. Actual cooking temperature will be higher.)
3. Clean and sanitize utensils, counters, and hands. To prevent cross-contamination (the spread of germs from one surface to another), be sure to clean and sanitize everything your turkey touches. This includes knives, cutting boards, pots and pans, and YOUR HANDS. Proper handwashing is vital to limiting the spread of viruses and bacteria and reducing your risk of foodborne illness. View this poster to learn the proper handwashing procedure.
4. Put leftovers away promptly. Leaving leftovers sitting out too long is asking for trouble. The longer food sits out at room temperature, the higher the risk of contamination. To be safe, don’t leave leftovers sitting out for longer than 2 hours. Store all leftovers in airtight containers (resealable bowls, zipper bags, etc.) and place them in either the refrigerator or freezer. Frozen foods can generally be kept without loss of quality for up to six months. Refrigerated foods, if stored properly, should be used within 3-4 days.
For more information, please check out this terrific resource from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Let’s Talk Turkey: A Consumer’s Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey.
Other helpful resources:
The USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline:
1-888-674-6854 (10:00AM – 4:00PM Eastern Time, M-F)
The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: