Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety at home podcast
series. These podcasts were designed with you in mind - the consumer - who purchases and
prepares meat, poultry and processed meat, egg products for your family and friends.
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging from safe storage, handling,
and preparation of meat, poultry and processed egg products to the importance of keeping foods
safe during a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home.” This is Kathy Bernard with the Food Safety and Inspection
Service. I’m your host for this segment. With me today is Tina Hanes, technical information
specialist from FSIS’ Food Safety Education Staff. Tina and I will discuss buying and thawing
Hello Tina, welcome to the show.
Thank you Kathy, I’m pleased to be here.
Let’s talk about buying and thawing a turkey safely.
Before you shop for your turkey, make sure you have enough room in the refrigerator or freezer
for the size turkey you plan to buy. Turkey should be stored in a refrigerator (at 40 degrees
Fahrenheit or slightly below) or a freezer (at zero degrees Fahrenheit). Don’t store a turkey
on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, garage, or any place where temperatures
cannot be constantly monitored or assured. A turkey should not be left on the counter more
than two hours because it will be in “the Danger Zone” – which is between 40 and 140 degrees
Fahrenheit – for too long. Foodborne bacteria can multiply rapidly in “the Danger Zone.”
When should you buy your turkey?
A fresh turkey should be purchased only 1 or 2 days before you want to use it. A frozen turkey
can be purchased any time, but make sure you bring it home in plenty of time to thaw before
you plan on cooking it. Take the turkey home immediately after grocery store checkout and
refrigerate or freeze it.
How do you prevent cross-contamination while storing or thawing a turkey in the refrigerator?
Whether it’s a fresh turkey or a frozen turkey that you want to start thawing, place it in a
pan or tray so any juices that leak out of the wrapping won’t drip on other foods and
What are the safe ways to thaw a turkey?
There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the
Many people don’t realize how long it takes for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator, so they
end up with a turkey that’s still frozen on the day they want to cook it.
When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:
- Be sure to plan ahead. Allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of turkey in a
refrigerator set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
- Some areas of the refrigerator may keep food colder than others. A turkey placed in the
coldest part OR in a refrigerator set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit will require longer
After the turkey is completely thawed, you can keep it 1 or 2 more days before you must cook
How do you thaw a turkey in cold water?
Cold water is a big help when you don’t have enough time to thaw your turkey in the
refrigerator or perhaps it’s not thawing fast enough in the refrigerator.
Here’s how you do it. First,
don't take the turkey out of its heavy plastic wrapping. Check
for any tears in the bag, and if you see any, place the wrapped turkey inside a leak-proof
plastic bag. You don’t want to get water inside the wrapping or bag because that could
introduce bacteria from the environment. Also, meat tissues can absorb water like a sponge,
resulting in a watery turkey.
Next, place the turkey in a large pan or in the kitchen sink, and completely submerge the
turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Allow
about 30 minutes per pound of frozen turkey, and plan on cooking it immediately after thawing.
How do you thaw a turkey in a microwave oven?
Using a microwave oven is kind of your last resort for thawing a turkey fast. The first thing
to consider is whether the size turkey you have will fit into your microwave oven with several
inches above and around it.
If it fits in the oven with room to spare, follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s
instructions on defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing, because some
areas of the turkey – especially the drumsticks and wings -- may become warm and begin to cook
during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria
present wouldn’t have been destroyed.
What if you don’t have time to thaw a turkey by any of these methods?
You can actually put a frozen turkey right in the oven – after removing the wrapper, of
course. You will need to add about 50% of the estimated cooking time for a thawed turkey.
Place the turkey in a roasting pan at 325 degrees Fahrenheit or in an oven cooking bag at 350
degrees Fahrenheit. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey reaches a safe minimum
temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here’s another situation. What if you thaw the turkey and then decide not to cook it after
all? Can you refreeze it?
A turkey thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be
additional loss of moisture or texture.
Do not refreeze a turkey thawed by the cold water method or in the microwave oven because the
turkey hasn’t constantly been kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial
growth, and any bacteria that could be in the raw turkey hasn’t been destroyed by cooking.
However, the cooked meat from a turkey thawed by any method can be frozen. Use it within 3 to
4 months for best flavor and texture.
You can learn more about buying and thawing and the safe handling and cooking of turkey by
visiting the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov. Or
visit us online for assistance from our virtual representative “Ask Karen”
I think our listeners might be interested to know that USDA can answer your turkey questions,
even on Thanksgiving Day. USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open for business from 8:00
am to 2:00 pm Eastern Time. Dial the toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline.
That’s it for this week. We’ve been talking to Tina Hanes, technical information specialist
from FSIS’ Food Safety Education Staff. Thank you so much Tina, for your helpful guidance on
buying and thawing a turkey. I’m Kathy Bernard and I’d like to thank you for joining us for
this episode of “Food Safety at Home.” And remember, “Be Food Safe.”
Well, that’s all for this time. Thanks for joining us today for another episode of
food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free meat and poultry hotline
at 1-888-mphotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our virtual representative
"ask karen" at www.askkaren.gov .
Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your comments to
Thanks for tuning in.