This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by Pam Schmutz, HGIC Food Safety Specialist, and Elizabeth Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. Revised by Pam Schmutz, HGIC Food Safety Specialist, Angela Fraser, Extension Food Safety Specialist and Julie Northcutt, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 2/99. Revised 10/09.)
Food safety is important when cooking a turkey. Improperly cooked turkey could make your family sick.
Three ways are safe—in the refrigerator, in cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in a microwave oven. Do not thaw a turkey at room temperature. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed before cooking.
Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator: This method takes the longest time but is the easiest and safest way. Put the frozen turkey (still in its original packaging) on a deep tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. This will prevent the juices from dripping onto other foods. This method requires planning ahead as it will take about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. A 20-pound turkey will take between four and five days to completely thaw. It is safe to keep the thawed bird in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking it.
Thawing in Cold Water: This method requires the most time and attention as well as a deep kitchen sink. Put the frozen turkey (still in its original packaging) in the clean sink. Cover the turkey completely with cold water. It will take about 30 minutes per pound to completely thaw the turkey. A 20-pound bird will take ten hours to thaw. The water must also be changed every 30 minutes to be sure it is cold. If the packaging is torn, put the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag, close completely and then place in water. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
Thawing in the Microwave: To thaw in the microwave, check your owner’s manual to be sure that your turkey is not too big for the size of your microwave oven. Also, check the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing as well as cooking. Turkeys thawed in a microwave must be cooked immediately after thawing.
|Turkey Size (lbs.)||Refrigerator (Days)||Cold Water (Hours)|
After thawing, prepare the turkey for cooking.
Wash hands, utensils, sink and everything that has been in contact with the raw turkey. After washing, sanitize the counter, sinks and any containers or trays that have been used. To sanitize, prepare a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of warm, not hot, water. Immerse the washed items in this solution, remove, and let air dry. If you cannot immerse the item, such as the countertop, saturate the surface with the sanitizing solution and let air-dry.
Note: It is best not to rinse the turkey before cooking because the rinse water would contaminate the sink and, if water is splashed, the counter and other surfaces around the sink. Cooking the turkey to a safe temperature—165 °F or hotter —kills bacteria on the surface of the turkey.
Cooking a home-stuffed turkey can be riskier than cooking one that is not stuffed. If the stuffing is not thoroughly cooked, foodborne illness could occur. To stuff and cook a turkey safely, follow these steps:
Prepare Stuffing Safely: Moist and dry ingredients can be prepared separately ahead of time. Store moist ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.) in the refrigerator. Both moist and dry ingredients should be combined immediately before the bird is stuffed, never in advance, even if refrigerated. Use only cooked ingredients, such as sautéed vegetables, cooked meats and seafood (oysters). If eggs are used, be sure that they are pasteurized liquid eggs and not raw shell eggs. Moist stuffing is better than dry stuffing as heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.
Stuff the Bird Properly: Loosely stuff both the neck and body cavities. Use about three-quarters cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. For example, no more than 15 cups of stuffing should be used in a 20-pound bird.
Cook at the Proper Temperature: Put the stuffed turkey immediately in a preheated oven set no lower than 325°F. Cooking overnight at a low setting (200 to 250 °F) is unsafe. Bacteria can easily grow under these conditions.
Use a Food Thermometer: Always check the stuffing temperature to make sure it is done. Even if the turkey has reached 165 °F in the innermost part of the thigh, the stuffing might not have reached 165 °F in the center. It is very important that all parts of the stuffing are cooked to 165 °F for safety.
Pre-stuffed Poultry: Pre-stuffed whole poultry is highly perishable and should only be purchased if it has a USDA or state mark of inspection on the package. This means the turkey has been processed under controlled conditions. Never thaw a pre-stuffed frozen bird before cooking. Always cook from the frozen state. Follow the package directions to ensure a safely cooked product.
Safety & Preparation for All Methods:
Roasting: The open pan roasting method will consistently create a juicy, tender, golden brown turkey.
|Size of Turkey (lbs.)||Unstuffed Timing (Hours)||Stuffed Timing (Hours)|
|Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of both turkey and stuffing.|
Safety Notes for Smoking Turkey:
Deep-Fat Fried, Whole Turkey: This method of preparation requires special equipment and costs more money. You will need a 40- or 60-quart pot with basket, a burner and a propane gas tank; a candy thermometer to measure oil temperature; and an instant-read thermometer to determine if the turkey is done. For added safety, have a fire extinguisher and pot holders nearby. Never leave the hot oil unattended, nor allow children or pets near it. Never fry a turkey indoors or in a garage or other enclosed structure. Do not fry on wood decks, which could catch fire, or on concrete, which can be stained by the oil.
Safely Frying a Whole Turkey:
Microwaving: Always check the owner’s manual for cooking recommendations.
Within two hours after cooking, remove stuffing from turkey and carve the meat off the bones. Put leftovers in shallow containers, no more than 2 inches deep, and refrigerate or freeze. It is best to use refrigerated leftovers within three or four days, or freeze. To freeze, wrap in freezer paper or heavy-duty foil, or put in freezer bags or freezer containers. For best quality, use frozen leftovers within three to four months.
Safe Handling: In whole, ready-to-cook poultry, giblets are located in a bag in the abdominal cavity. They will not be from the original bird. Giblets may also be purchased separately as livers, hearts, or a combination of both, and labeled accordingly. At home, immediately put giblets in a refrigerator that is at 40 °F or colder, and use within one or two days. Giblets can also be frozen at 0 °F or colder. For best quality, use frozen giblets within three to four months.
Thawing: There are three safe ways to thaw giblets — in the refrigerator, in cold water that is changed every 30 minutes or in a microwave oven. Do not thaw giblets at room temperature.
Refrigerator Thawing: A 1-pound carton of frozen turkey livers will take about 24 hours to completely thaw. Once thawed, the giblets may be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days. During this time, if you do not use the giblets, you can safely refreeze them.
Cold Water Thawing: Leave the giblets in the original airtight packaging or place in a leak-proof bag. Cover the package with ice cold water and change the water every 30 minutes to make sure it stays cold. A 1-pound carton of livers should thaw in one or two hours. Foods thawed by the cold-water method must be cooked immediately.
Microwave Thawing: Cook giblets immediately after thawing in a microwave oven. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria that may have been present may not have been destroyed. Foods thawed in a microwave oven must be cooked immediately.
Cooking: Traditionally, turkey giblets are cooked by simmering in water for use in flavoring soups, gravies or poultry stuffing. Once cooked, the liver will become crumbly and the heart and gizzard will soften and become easy to chop. Cooked giblets should have a firm texture and their juices should run clear. Casseroles and stuffing containing giblets must be cooked to at least 165 °F. Chicken giblets are commonly fried or broiled. Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours.
Accidental Cooking in Packaging: Some giblets are paper wrapped before being inserted into the poultry body cavity. In this case, there would be no concern if the giblets were accidentally cooked inside the bird to a safe temperature. If giblets were packed in a plastic bag, and the bag has been altered or melted by the cooking process, do not eat the giblets or the poultry. Harmful chemicals could have leached into the surrounding meat. If the plastic bag was not altered, the giblets and poultry should be safe to eat as long as the meat is fully cooked.
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