Turkey and its juice can be contaminated with germs that can make you and your family sick. Raw turkey can contain Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, and other germs. Whether you’re cooking a whole bird or a part of it, such as the breast, you should take special care to prevent food poisoning. Follow the 6 steps below to safely store, thaw, handle, cook, and reheat your turkey.
Use one of these methods to thaw your turkey.
Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A turkey must thaw at a safe temperature. When a turkey stays out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, its temperature becomes unsafe even if the center is still frozen. Germs can grow rapidly in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F.
Raw turkey and its juice can contaminate anything they touch. Be sure to handle your turkey correctly to prevent harmful germs from spreading to other food or your family and friends.
Learn more about the four steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Washing raw turkey can spread germs to other food. Federal agencies have recommended not washing turkey or chicken since 2005. But a 2020 survey* found that 78% of participants reported washing or rinsing turkey before cooking. Old recipes and family cooking traditions may tempt you to keep this practice going, but it can make you and your family sick. Poultry juice can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops.
If you wash raw turkey, immediately clean and thoroughly sanitize the sink and surrounding area. A USDA study found that 1 in 7 people who cleaned their sink after washing chicken still had germs in the sink.
*Source: 2020 Porter Novelli Consumer Styles survey of 3,625 adults in the United States
It’s safest to cook stuffing in a casserole dish instead of inside your turkey. Cooking stuffing in a casserole dish makes it easy to be sure the stuffing is thoroughly cooked. If you do cook stuffing in the turkey, put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking.
With either cooking method, use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F. Germs can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F. If you cooked the stuffing in your turkey, wait 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before removing the stuffing. This allows the stuffing to cook a little longer.
To roast a turkey in your oven, set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times depend on the weight of the turkey and whether it is stuffed.
Use a food thermometer to make sure your turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F.
If you are cooking your turkey using another method, such as smoking or frying it, or if you are roasting a turkey that is not fully thawed, follow these guidelines for cooking your bird safely.
Learn more about safe internal temperatures for other foods and how to use a food thermometer.
Make sure turkey reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Use a food thermometer to check in three places, avoiding bone: (1) thickest part of the breast, (2) where body and thigh join, aiming toward thigh, and (3) where body and wing join, aiming toward wing.
Follow these tips to safely store and reheat your leftovers.
The bacteria Clostridium perfringens grows in cooked foods left at room temperature. It is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. The major symptoms are vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours after eating.
Read other food safety features to learn more about protecting yourself and your loved ones from food poisoning.