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Let's Talk Turkey


As families gather for the holidays, it is especially important not to forget food safety principles when preparing holiday meals. By following four basic food safety practices, everyone can reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

  • Keep hands and all food preparation surfaces clean
  • Don't cross-contaminate foodborne bacteria from one food to another.
  • Cook to proper temperatures.
  • Refrigerate perishable foods quickly after eating.

These tips are part of the "Fight BAC!"TM food safety education program to help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness.


Storing the Turkey.... Avoid Cross-Contamination

  • Whether you purchase a fresh or frozen turkey is a matter of personal preference. Buy a fresh turkey no more than two days ahead of the big meal and make sure you have adequate storage space in the refrigerator.
  • If a frozen turkey is your choice, you can safely defrost it in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every 5 pounds. Check that the original bag is not broken, to prevent raw juices from coming into contact with other foods.
  • The turkey also can be thawed in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook immediately.
  • Never defrost at room temperature.

Safe Cooking

  • For safety and doneness, the internal temperature of the turkey must reach 165°F in the thigh and breast. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F.
  • Use a meat thermometer to be sure that the correct internal temperature is reached and to prevent overcooking. A meat thermometer should be used even in turkeys that have "pop-up" temperature indicators to ensure a safe temperature of 165° F.
  • It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

  • The safest way to cook the stuffing is separate from the turkey, but whether the stuffing is cooked inside or outside of the turkey, it must reach an internal temperature of 165° F.
  • If the turkey is stuffed, mix ingredients just prior to filling the cavity. Stuff loosely to help ensure safe, even cooking.
  • Remember, the turkey must reach 165°F in the thigh and thickest part of the breast. If it is stuffed, the stuffing must also cook to at least 165° F.

Safe Handling of Leftovers

  • Cut leftover turkey into small pieces, or slice.
  • Refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days, and gravy within 1 to 2 days.
  • Gravy should be reheated to a boil and leftovers, if heated, should be thoroughly reheated to 165° F.