Turkey Safety – Proper Handling and Cooking

Given that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 80 percent of foodborne illnesses are linked to meat and poultry, proper handling and cooking of your holiday turkey is essential. Follow these seven tips for handling and preparing your turkey safely this holiday season.

Shop for a Turkey Safely

A raw turkey should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for any length of time. Put a turkey into your shopping cart last and get it home and refrigerated promptly. Bag the turkey separately and place it below other food in the refrigerator.

Thaw Frozen Turkeys Properly

Don't attempt to thaw a frozen turkey by letting it sit overnight on a kitchen counter. Use one of the following methods:

  • Option I:  Refrigerator Method (allow four to five hours per pound). Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. Cook the turkey within a day or two of thawing.
  • Option II: Cold Water Thawing (allow about 30 minutes per pound). Place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it has thawed.
  • Option III: Microwave Thawing (check your owner's manual for the maximum size turkey you can thaw, the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing). Remove all outside wrapping and any metal bands, and place the turkey on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices. A turkey thawed in a microwave must be cooked immediately.

Don’t Wash Your Turkey

There's no need to wash your turkey before your cook it. If you do, bacteria from raw poultry can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking kills bacteria. If you choose to rinse your turkey, such as after brining, be very careful about splashing water and disinfect your sink and all other nearby surfaces thoroughly afterwards.

Never Place a Raw Turkey Directly on the Counter

Keep it on a platter or in a roaster. Clean and sanitize the counter as well as any dishes or utensils that came into contact with raw turkey or its juices.

Don’t Forget to Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands thoroughly immediately after handling raw turkey, using plenty of warm water and soap. Make sure that any guests who come into the kitchen to help also wash their hands to avoid the spread of germs and illness.

Use a Thermometer

Always use a certified meat thermometer to check for doneness, even if the turkey has a pop-up timer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as the thickest part of the breast. When the temperature reaches at least 165º F at all three locations, the turkey is done.

For Optimum Safety, Don’t Stuff Your Turkey

Instead, cook stuffing separately in a casserole dish. If you do choose to stuff, wait to do so until right before putting the turkey in the oven. Use only pre-cooked meats and vegetables in the stuffing mixture and cook the stuffing until it reaches at least 165° F.