Thanksgiving: Safe Turkey Preparation

Talking turkey should always include a discussion regarding safety.

While turkeys can’t lash out (unless they are Ninja turkeys–and then you will only know after they have dispatched you forthwith), working with poultry has propensities towards causing illness if care is not used during preparation. Bacteria can grow rapidly on a bird or surfaces that come into contact with the turkey, so be careful, and follow these important tips:

  • If buying a frozen turkey, purchase a couple days in advance of cooking.
  • Keep turkeys refrigerated and in their original wrapper until ready to prepare. (Storing in a shallow pan will ensure that any leakage from the turkey will be safely contained)
  • A turkey can be frozen, but use within the year when at all possible. If thawed properly in the refrigerator, a turkey may be frozen.
  • Always remove giblets from the turkey and prepare separately.
  • Cook turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fareinheit. This is the minimum temperature established by the Food Safety and Inspection Service. From their website: “A whole turkey (and turkey parts) is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.”

From the USDA: REMEMBER! Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.

Thawing times (in the refrigerator)

4 to 12 pounds
1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days
Thawing times (in cold water)
4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

both charts from

Need more information? It’s better to ask than to end up in the hospital with food poisoning. With so many options available, why not ask?

Let’s Talk Turkey
Contact: USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 TDY 800-246-7072

To talk to a food safety specialist call 1-888-674-6854 between 10 am and 4 pm eastern time and on Thanksgiving Day 10 to 2 pm eastern time.

For an FSIS automated response system, “Ask Karen” is available 24/7. Answers to questions can be found in their extensive database of food safety information regarding food borne illness (and its prevention), as well as safe handling, preparation, and storage of meat, poultry, and egg products.
Contact: 1-800-Butterball

Cooks can also sign up for turkey text messages by entering their phone number or engage in a live web chat with a Butterball Talk-Line Expert.

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