Don’t Let Your Thanksgiving Turkey Make You Sick!

Pamela Schmutz
Home & Garden Information Center

This Thanksgiving, even if your turkey has a pop-up thermometer, take your turkey’s temperature to make sure eating turkey won’t make you sick. The one weapon in your kitchen arsenal that can best keep you from getting a foodborne illness after your Thanksgiving meal, is a food thermometer. Measure the internal temperature of your turkey, stuffing and casseroles to be sure they are safely cooked. Turkey is safely cooked when the internal temperature is at least 165 °F. The only way to check this is to use a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature by inserting the probe of the thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as in the thickest part of the breast, without touching bone. It is perfectly safe to cook the turkey to a higher temperature if that is the way you like it. Also, cook stuffing and casseroles made with eggs to at least 165 °F. For step-by-step instructions on how to roast, smoke, fry or microwave a turkey, see HGIC 3560, How to Cook Turkey. The following tips will help to keep your family safe at the Thanksgiving meal or any time you prepare turkey.

  • Only use one of the three safe ways to thaw a turkey—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. Allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey thawed in the refrigerator. A 20-pound turkey will take between four and five days to completely thaw in the refrigerator.
  • 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.
  • Make sure that fresh fruits and vegetables stored on the counter are away from work areas, especially when preparing fresh meat and poultry.
  • 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 with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of warm, not hot, water.
  • If the stuffing is prepared in advance, use only cooked ingredients that have been stored in the refrigerator, and wait until just before cooking to stuff the turkey. Use pasteurized liquid eggs rather than raw shell eggs.
  • Never brown or partially cook a turkey to finish cooking later.
  • Cooking overnight at a low setting (200 to 250 °F) is unsafe. Bacteria can easily grow under these conditions. Roast a turkey in a preheated oven set at 325 °F
  • Within two hours after cooking, remove stuffing from turkey and carve the meat off the bones. Put leftovers in a shallow container, no more than 2 inches deep, to allow quick cooling. Store in a refrigerator or freezer. It is best to use refrigerated leftovers within three or four days, or freeze.

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