Let’s Talk Turkey!

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Most homes in the United States will be preparing turkey for holiday meals. Unfortunately, this traditional meat can also be a food safety nightmare as turkey is linked to outbreaks of salmonellosis and campylobacterosis, illnesses caused by bacteria sometimes found in poultry. By following proper steps, you can reduce the risk of foodborne illness at your holiday gathering. Proper handling while thawing, preparing and cooking your bird are essential.

Plan ahead and thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, it will take 3-4 days to fully thaw the turkey. Keep the turkey wrapped in its original packaging and in a shallow pan to keep juices from dripping on other food items. Ideally, the turkey should be on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator. Thawing your turkey in hot water can be a cross-contamination risk, thawing on the counter creates an environment for bacterial growth, and a microwave allows for non-uniform thawing. Cooking a partially thawed turkey can increase your risk of food poisoning.

Do your best to contain the juices of the thawed turkey to a small area to prevent contaminating your entire kitchen. Ideally, unwrapping the turkey in the sink lets the juices go down the drain; the sink is much easier to clean up. After preparing your turkey for cooking, clean and sanitize the sink, counter top and utensils, then wash your hands before moving on to a new task. You can sanitize by preparing a solution of 3/4 teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.

Under cooking turkey can be the biggest risk during the holiday. Watching for juices to run clear, or a plastic indicator to pop up are common suggestions of done-ness. The only sure way to know the turkey is cooked is by using a thermometer. Use a tip sensitive digital thermometer, and stick it in several places in the turkey avoiding the bones, the temperature must read 165F.

Stuffing or dressing should be cooked separately, not inside the turkey. A few stalks of celery, onion, lemon, and herbs placed in the cavity creates a wonderful aromatic flavoring for your turkey, and is far safer.

Slice the turkey for serving, refrigerate uneaten meat within two hours of removing it from the oven. Place slices and small pieces of meat in quart size zipper lock bags that can lay flat in the refrigerator for fast cooling, the goal is for the turkey to reach 41F in a short period of time. If you plan to use the carcass for broth, place it in a bag in the refrigerator to cool.


By following a few simple steps, your holiday meal will be enjoyed without the risk of making your guests ill. If you have questions regarding food safety and meal preparation, the  USDA Website is a great source of help. You can also call the ‘Turkey Hotline’ at       1-888-674-6854, or  Ask Karen a fully automated website of helpful information.