The Do's and Don’ts of Safely Cooking and Serving Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Turkey Do's: 

  • Look into the best way to thaw your turkey safely. Depending on the size of the bird, some ways of thawing may be preferred over others. The three most common methods are: in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave. Get more information on thawing turkeys. 
  • Plan for how long it will take to thaw ahead of time. For example, if you plan on thawing in the fridge, it will take 24 hours for every five pounds of weight. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat
  • Use separate cutting boards and plates for handling raw meat. 
  • Wash any contaminated dishes. Wash all cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops that have touched raw meat with hot soapy water before using them to prepare the next dish. 
  • Use a meat thermometer to make sure your turkey is fully cooked. Check that your turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165° F in three places (avoid hitting the bone when checking). Here’s where to check: 
    1. The thickest part of the breast 
    2. Where body and thigh join, aiming toward thigh 
    3. Where body and wing join, aiming toward wing 
  • Cut your turkey leftovers into smaller pieces so it will cool faster. Bigger portions take longer to cool, and the longer your food sits out, it increases the opportunity for bacteria to start growing and the danger for foodborne illnesses.  
  • Freeze extra leftovers to store them for longer. If your turkey is too big for your family to finish within four days, wrap them up and store them in the freezer. Frozen leftovers will be good for three to four months! 

Turkey Don’ts: 

  • Don't thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the countertop. When a turkey stays out at room temperature for more than two hours, it becomes unsafe even if the center is still frozen. 
  • Don't wash your turkey. Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to spread throughout your sink and surrounding areas (up to three feet away). While the turkey is cooking, the heat will kill any bacteria that may be present, so you don’t need to take the risk of washing your bird. 
  • Don't rely only on the pop-up timer to check the internal temperature. Even if the pop-up timer has gone off, there may be some parts of your turkey that haven’t reached a safe internal temperature yet. 
  • Don't eat any turkey leftovers after they’ve been in the fridge for more than four days. 

Additional Resources: