The sharing of food with family and friends is a Thanksgiving tradition in many households. It can be a lot of fun celebrating together but for cooks it can be stressful to get food on the table in timely manner so that everything is hot and safe to consume. Safe food handling is a priority when it comes to cooking for many people or even yourself.
Turkey is an all-time favorite for Thanksgiving. If you decide to purchase a frozen turkey, remember to thaw it in time for cooking. Taking it out of the freezer the day before and leaving it on the counter overnight is not a safe method of thawing. If by chance there were bacteria present in the turkey it could begin to multiple at room temperature. For freshness and quality, thawed or fresh turkey should be stored in the refrigerator and cooked within 1 - 2 days.
Two safe ways to defrost your holiday turkey at home are in the refrigerator or in cold water. Allow about 24 hours for every four - five pounds of turkey when thawing in a refrigerator at 40°F or lower. It could reasonably take 4 to 5 days or longer for a 20-24 pound turkey to thaw. When thawing in cold water allow about 30 minutes per pound. Place the turkey in a leak‑proof, food grade plastic bag and immerse in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. Cook the turkey immediately after it has thawed.
Always mix your stuffing ingredients just before it goes into the bird. To save time, prepare and store the wet and dry ingredients separately and chill it until you are ready mix it together. Stuff turkey loosely ‑ about three‑fourths cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. For optimum safety, cook the stuffing separately in the oven.
Once the turkey is prepared for cooking, immediately place it in an oven set no lower than 325° F. For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a calibrated food thermometer. The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F in order to be safe to consume. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, the thickest part of the breast and the center of the stuffing. If your turkey has a “pop-up” thermometer, it is recommended that you double-check the temperature with a food thermometer. Let the bird stand for 20 minutes before removing all stuffing and carving.
Refrigerate all leftovers including turkey, stuffing and gravy within two hours of your meal. Refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers. Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days.
If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert. You can also chat live at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Services are provided in English and Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET.
Consumers with food safety questions can visit FoodSafety.gov to learn more about how to safely select, thaw and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter, @USDAFoodSafety, or on Facebook, at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.
Ann Hamilton is a food safety field specialist with the University of New Hampshire Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.