Letís Talk Turkey
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 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 ďFood Safety at Home.Ē This is Gertie Hurley with the Food Safety and Inspection
Service. Iím your host for this segment.
With me today is CiCi Williamson, technical information specialist from the USDA Meat
and Poultry Hotline. Weíre going to talk turkey today. CiCi will discuss planning, selecting,
thawing and preparing a turkey.
Welcome to the show, CiCi.
Thank you. Itís good to be here.
Thanksgiving time brings with it feelings of gratitude and appreciation for all that we
have, our family, our friends, and others we hold dear. A lot of the fellowship at Thanksgiving
centers around the traditional turkey dinner.
Some people plan dinner for a small group and others for a large group. Whether the group
is small or large, the first thing on our planning list should be food safety, right,
Thatís right. Food safety should be at the top of your list for handling, preparing and
serving your turkey, and you can Be Food Safe by following the 4 basic steps of food safety:
Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
- Clean: Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that
comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.
- Separate: Use one cutting board for raw turkey, meat and seafood, and
a separate one for fresh produce. Keep raw turkey and other meats and their juices separate
from other side dishes when preparing your meal.
- Cook: Cook your turkey, stuffing, casseroles and leftovers to a safe
minimum internal temperature of 165 įF. Use a food thermometer to be sure.
- Chill: Refrigerate your turkey and other food promptly. Keep the refrigerator
at 40 įF or below. Refrigerate your turkey leftovers within 2 hours and never defrost
your turkey or other food at room temperature.
Now, letís get to some turkey basics. How do I estimate the size turkey I need for the
number of guests I plan to have?
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person for a fresh or frozen turkey.
Should I buy a fresh or a frozen turkey?
Itís really your choice, Gertie. But if buying a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1 to 2 days before you plan
to cook it. Keep the turkey stored in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook. Place
the turkey on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak out of the package.
Do you recommend purchasing fresh pre-stuffed turkey?
No, we donít recommend buying fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. Any harmful bacteria that may
be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly.
What should I consider when buying a frozen turkey?
Keep that turkey frozen until youíre ready to thaw it. Turkeys can be kept frozen in the
freezer indefinitely; however, for best quality, we recommend cooking the turkey within
1 year of purchase.
I have seen the frozen pre-stuffed turkeys in the grocery store. Should I consider buying
a frozen pre-stuffed turkey?
USDA recommends buying only frozen pre-stuffed turkeys that display the USDA or state
mark of inspection on the packaging. These turkeys are safe because they have been processed
under controlled conditions.
Do not thaw the frozen pre-stuffed turkey before cooking. Cook the turkey from the frozen
state. Follow package directions for proper handling and cooking. Also when purchasing
a frozen pre-stuffed turkey, allow 1 and 1/4 pounds of turkey per person.
How should I thaw a regular frozen turkey, CiCi?
Well, there are three ways to thaw your turkey safely - in the refrigerator, in cold water
or in the microwave oven.
Can you discuss these three methods?
Sure. If thawing in the refrigerator at 40 įF or below, allow approximately 24 hours for
every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey weight. For example, a 4 to 12 pound turkey should thaw
in 1 to 3 days; a 12 to 16 pound turkey, 3 to 4 days; a 16 to 20 pound turkey, 4 to 5
days; and a 20 to 24 pound turkey should thaw in 5 to 6 days.
Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place the turkey on a tray or pan to catch any
juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days.
If necessary, a turkey that has been safely thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen.
To thaw a frozen turkey in cold water, make sure that you wrap the turkey securely so
the water cannot leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water.
Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do
When thawing in cold water, allow approximately 30 minutes per pound. For example, 4 to
12 pounds, 2 to 6 hours; 12 to 16 pounds, 6 to 8 hours; 16 to 20 pounds, 8 to 10 hours;
and 20 to 24 pounds, 10 to 12 hours.
To thaw a turkey in the microwave oven, check your ownerís manual for the maximum size
turkey thatís recommended for your microwave oven, the minutes per pound, and the power
level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping from the turkey. Place the turkey
on a microwave safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.
When you thaw a turkey in the microwave, itís very important that you cook your turkey
immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate the turkey after thawing in the microwave
Letís talk a little bit about roasting the turkey. Can you give us some guidance on how
to safely roast our turkey?
Certainly. Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 įF. Place your turkey or turkey
breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not
recommended. For more even cooking, itís recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole.
Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing
must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 įF.
If you decide to stuff your turkey, the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time; however,
keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill the wet ingredients such as butter, margarine,
cooked celery and onions, and broth. Mix the wet and dry ingredients just before filling
the turkey cavity. Fill the cavity loosely and cook the turkey immediately. Use a food
thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature
of 165 įF.
A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 įF as measured
with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh
and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, you
may choose to cook your turkey to higher temperatures.
Some people use a turkey that has a ďpop-upĒ temperature indicator. After the indicator
pops up, should they consider the turkey safely cooked and ready to serve?
Well, even though the indicator pops up, we recommend that you also check the internal
temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest
part of the breast with a food thermometer. The minimum internal temperature should reach
165 įF for safety.
Is the turkey ready to carve when it comes out of the oven?
Itís best to let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to
set, so the turkey will carve more easily. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity.
How can a person learn more about planning, selecting, thawing, and preparing a turkey?
Consumers can visit the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov.
Thatís www.fsis.usda.gov. Or visit us online for assistance from our virtual representative
ďAsk KarenĒ at www.askkaren.gov.
Consumers may also call our toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline.
Thatís 1-888-674-6854. The Hotline will be open on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Eastern Standard Time.
Thatís it for this week. Weíve been talking to CiCi Williamson from the USDA Meat and
Poultry Hotline. Thank you so much, CiCi, for your helpful guidance on how to be food
safe when cooking a turkey for the holidays.
Iím Gertie Hurley and Iíd like to thank you for joining us for this episode of ďFood Safety
at Home.Ē And remember, ďBe Food Safe.Ē
Well, thatís 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. Thatís 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.
Last Modified: November 18, 20088