Are you preparing a turkey for your holiday meal? Turkey and its juice can be contaminated with germs that can make you and your family sick. For example, 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. Follow the steps below to safely store, thaw, handle, and cook 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 your food, family, and friends.
Learn more about the four steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Do not wash or rinse raw turkey. Federal food safety advice has recommended against washing turkey or chicken since 2005, but some habits are hard to break. 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 juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops.
∗Source: 2020 Porter Novelli Consumer Stylesexternal icon Survey of 3,625 U.S. adults
It’s safest to cook stuffingexternal icon 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 timesexternal icon depend on the weight of the turkey and whether it is stuffed.
Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe minimum cooking temperature of 165°F. Check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest part of the breast, thigh, and wing. Even if your turkey has a pop-up timer, you should still use a food thermometer to check that it is safely cooked. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. This will let the stuffing cook a little longer and make the turkey easier to carveexternal icon.
If you are cooking your turkey using another method, such as smoking or frying it, or roasting a turkey that is not fully thawed, follow these guidelinesexternal icon for cooking your bird safely.
Refrigerate leftoversexternal icon at 40°F or colder within 2 hours of cooking to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide big cuts of meat, such as a roast turkey, into small quantities for refrigeration so they can cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165°F before serving.
Cooked turkey and dishes made with turkey, such as a casserole, can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or can be frozen to store longer.
Always refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours, or 1 hour if exposed to temperatures above 90°F (like a hot car or picnic).
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.