Keep Your Thanksgiving Meal Safe

— Written By

Many people enjoy a traditional dinner during the holiday season. Each Thanksgiving, more than 46 million turkeys are prepared and eaten in the United States. Because of the number of turkeys prepared, the incidence of foodborne illness also increases during the holidays. If not prepared properly, turkey and all other poultry can carry Salmonella, a common type of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Prepare a safe and tasty turkey this year by following these simple tips.

  • Properly thaw a turkey:  The best way to thaw it is in the refrigerator. Make sure it is still in its original wrapper and put a tray underneath to catch juices and prevent cross contamination. You will need 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey, so make sure you have enough time to properly thaw it. Once thawed, cook the turkey within 1 to 2 days. It is never safe to thaw a turkey or other meat on the counter or at room temperature.
  • Cook the turkey:  A turkey should be cooked at a temperature no lower than 325°F. It is not safe to cook a turkey for a lengthy time, such as overnight, at a low temperature. This encourages bacterial growth. The only way to know the turkey is done is with a meat thermometer. Turkey is safely cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Insert a meat thermometer in multiple spots but be sure the thermometer does not touch the bone. Do not rely on the pop up thermometer alone. If the bird is stuffed, the stuffing should reach 165°F as well.
  • Leftovers:  Within two hours after cooking, remove stuffing from the turkey and carve the meat off the bones. Put leftovers in shallow containers, no more than 2 inches deep, and refrigerate or freeze. It is best to use refrigerated leftovers within 3 to 4 days, or freeze. To freeze, wrap in freezer paper or heavy duty foil, or put in freezer bags/containers. For best quality, use frozen leftovers within 3 to 4 months.

Thawing Times for a Turkey

Turkey Size (lbs)               Refrigerator (Days)

8-12                                       2-3

12-16                                     3-4

16-20                                     4-5

20-24                                     5-6


Written By

Jami Lawhon, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionJami LawhonArea Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences Call Jami Email Jami N.C. Cooperative Extension, Davidson County Center
Updated on Nov 12, 2020
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