Thanksgiving Safety Tips: What to Do and Not to Do When Preparing and Cooking a Turkey

Make food safety a top priority in your kitchen this Thanksgiving to keep your guests safe from foodborne illness

Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips: Dos and Don'ts in the Kitchen on Turkey Day
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November 14, 2018

Whether you're a seasoned chef or a novice preparing your first holiday meal, make sure that you know the safest ways to thaw, prepare, stuff, and cook your turkey this Thanksgiving! Food safety in the kitchen is something that all cooks should know, not just on this one holiday, to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Safe Thawing Temperature

A thawing turkey must be kept at a safe temperature. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. But as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again. All food should be kept below 40˚F, even while thawing.

Thawing in the Refrigerator

When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator, plan ahead by allowing approximately 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey. Be sure to place the turkey in a container that is deep enough to keep it from dripping on other foods while thawing. If any juices fall onto other foods, they need to be thrown out.

cold water thawing

When thawing a turkey in cold water, allow about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Be sure that the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to avoid cross-contamination during thawing. Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it has finished thawing.

Microwave Thawing

When thawing a turkey in a microwave, follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instructions for thawing. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during the thaw. Not cooking it immediately means that the partially cooked food will allow bacteria to grow and spread rapidly. Even if the bacteria are destroyed by later cooking, any toxins produced by the bacteria will survive the cooking process.

Safe preparation

Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods. To be extra safe, invest in some disposable powder-free gloves that you can use while working with the food. You'll still have to wash your hands, but it's a safer practice.

Safe Stuffing

For optimal safety and uniform cooking, cook your stuffing outside the turkey in a separate container. If you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, not hours before, and use a food thermometer when determining if it is fully cooked. Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness and a lot of unhappy guests.

Safe Cooking

Set your oven temperature no lower than 325°F and be sure that your turkey is completely thawed before cooking. Place the turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F in all areas. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.