Turkey Talk: Tips for Handling Fresh and Frozen Birds

It’s already half-way through November, and many of us are planning the Thanksgiving menu. As we prepare for the big day, it’s important to keep food safety in mind.

Whether you are buying a fresh bird or frozen, you need to be aware of how to properly handle the turkey to keep your family and guests safe and without a foodborne illness. And the safety steps vary a bit based on whether you’re preparing a fresh or frozen bird, as follows:

Fresh Turkeys

  • Purchase the turkey a day or two before you plan to cook.
  • Place the turkey in a pan to catch any juices that may leak while storing the bird in your refrigerator.
  • Never buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys.
    • If not handled properly, any harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly.
    • If you prefer a pre-stuffed turkey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends buying a frozen pre-stuffed bird that displays a USDA or state mark of inspection on the packaging. Do not thaw a frozen pre-stuffed turkey! Instead, cook the bird from its frozen state following the package cooking directions.

Frozen Turkeys

  • Keep frozen until you are ready to thaw.
  • Never thaw a turkey on the kitchen counter or in hot water.
  • USDA recommends thawing a turkey in a refrigerator since this allows for slow and safe thawing. (Note: Refrigerator should be at 40 F. or below.)
  • Plan for about 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. After thawing, it is safe to store in the refrigerator for one to two more days before cooking.
  • Turkey can also be thawed in a cold-water bath or microwave; however, it must be cooked immediately after it has thawed using either of these methods.
  • If using the cold-water method, allow 30 minutes per pound and submerge the turkey in its original wrapping to avoid cross-contamination.
  • It’s safe to cook a turkey from its frozen state; however, it will take at least 50 percent longer to fully thaw.

Keep in mind, whether starting with a fresh or frozen turkey, never leave a raw bird out at room temperature for more than two hours.

In my next “Turkey Talk” post, we will discuss the three methods to safely thaw the turkey: the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave.

Full “Turkey Talk” series:

Posted: November 15, 2023

Category: Work & Life

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