Mason County News
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Family Times
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 • Posted November 11, 2009

Keep That Thanskgiving Turkey Safe!

Be prepared! Before purchasing your turkey, make ample space in your refrigerator, moving shelves if necessary.

Fresh or frozen? There is no quality difference between a fresh or frozen turkey although fresh turkeys have shorter shelf lives. By purchasing a frozen turkey, you can get the turkey in advance and take advantage of special sales. Fresh turkeys provide convenience because they do not require thawing.

What size turkey do I need to buy? When purchasing a whole turkey, purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. You’ll have enough for the feast and for leftovers too.

When should I buy it? Keep in mind that a whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. (For example:A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3 to 4 full days to thaw in therefrigerator.) Ideally, purchase your frozen turkey as far in advance as necessary to safely thaw it in the refrigerator. If buying a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1 to 2 days before the meal and keep it refrigerated.

Thawing and handling

Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey.

Never defrost turkey on the counter! Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. The refrigerator method is the safest and will result in the best finished product. Leave the bird in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan and allow refrigerator thawing time at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. To thaw in cold water, keep turkey in the original packaging, place in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes.

The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Now what? Once thawed, remove neck and giblets from the body cavities and keep bird and parts (if using) refrigerated at 40 o F or below until it is ready to be cooked.

Cooking time and temperature

Time to cook. There are several methods for cooking your turkey . The single most important thing to know, no matter the cooking method, is that the turkey must be cooked to the proper internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer. A stuffed turkey will take additional time to cook.

Stuff safely. Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it’s placed in the oven. Mix the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using.

Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.

Bake any extra stuffing in a greased casserole dish. Cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165o F. (For optimum safety and more even cooking, it's recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole dish.)

Take the temperature! ! Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165o F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thethickest part of the breast. Don’t ever cook turkey to exceed 170o F in the breast and 180o F in the thigh. (If the turkey is done and the stuffing is not yet 165o F, remove the stuffing from the turkey and place it in a greased casserole dish to continue cooking totemperature.) Use the timetable below to estimate approximate cooking time.

Thermal/Conventional Oven Open Pan Method Timetable for Roasting a Turkey at 325o F.

Unstuffed Turkey

8 to 12 pounds: 2-3/4 to 3 hours

12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3-3/4 hours

14 to 18 pounds: 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours

18 to 20 pounds :4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours

20 to 24 pounds : 4-1/2 to 5 hours

Stuffed Turkey

8 to 12 pounds : 3 to 3-1/2 hours

12 to 14 pounds : 3-1/2 to 4 hours

14 to 18 pounds: 4 to 4-1/4 hours

18 to 20 pounds : 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours

20 to 24 pounds : 4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hours

Convection Oven Open Pan Method Roasting Guidelines for a Fresh/Thawed Turkey at 300o F.

Unstuffed Turkey

14 to 18 pounds : 2-1/2 to 3-1/4 hours

18 to 22 pounds : 3-1/4 to 3-1/2 hours

Stuffed Turkey

14 to 18 pounds: 3 to 3-1/4 hours

18 to 22 pounds : 3-1/4 to 3-3/4 hours

Safe carving and serving

It's best to let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set, so the turkey will carve more easily. Use a clean cutting board that has a well to catch juices. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity. Make sure your knife is sharp before you start carving. Do not leave any extra turkey, stuffing or other leftovers out for more than two hours.

Storing leftovers safely

Remove the stuffing and carve the extra turkey meat from the bones. Within two hours, store leftover turkey in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator or the freezer. Use cooked leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3-4 days. Cooked turkey keeps for 3-4 months in the freezer. When using leftovers, reheat the foods thoroughly to 165o F or until hot and steaming; bring gravy to a boil before serving.


Having leftover turkey and other dishes means you can have additional tasty meals the day after your feast. But there are limits on how long you can safely keep leftovers.

Temperature and time cause bacteria to grow, which is why it is so important your refrigerator be cold enough and you not keep leftovers too long.

Even when refrigerated properly (at 40o F), leftovers should be eaten, frozen or discarded within 3 to 4 days.

When heating and storing leftovers keep the following in mind:

    *Refrigerate cooked leftovers promptly - within 2 hours. Use an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator to ensure your refrigerator is at 40o F or below. *Divide leftovers into smaller portions and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator. *Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. *Reheat cooked leftovers to 165o F as measured with a food thermometer. Sauces, soups and gravies should be reheated by bringing them to a boil. *When microwaving leftovers, make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive). Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration

1-888-SAFEFOOD: For questions about safe handling of the many foods that go into a delicious holiday meal, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854). M-F, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. EST.

Open Thanksgiving Day, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. EST. E-mail questions to the hotline at

Or ask a food safety question at

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