Handle Turkey Safely

Adrianne O. Vidrine  |  11/12/2010 3:02:41 AM

Handling Turkey Safely
With just a little over a week before Thanksgiving, today, we will take a look at proper and safe methods for handling, thawing and preparing a turkey.


Handle Turkey Safely

  • Take the turkey home right after you get it. Put it in the refrigerator or freezer right away.
  • Keep fresh turkey in the refrigerator, in its original wrappings. Place turkey in a large pan to keep the juices from dripping into your refrigerator.
  • If you have a fresh turkey, cook it within two days. If you get it ahead of time, put it in the freezer until you are ready to use it.
  • If you have a frozen turkey, keep it in the freezer until time to thaw.


Thaw Turkey Safely

Never thaw turkey at room temperature!
The outside will defrost before the inside and will be a perfect place for bacteria to grow and spread. There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey.

1. Refrigerator

  • Place the frozen turkey in a large pan so the drippings will not get on other foods.
  • Plan ahead. It takes about 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey to defrost in a refrigerator set at 40 F.

2. Microwave

  • Follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instructions when defrosting a turkey.
  • Plan to cook it immediately after thawing.
  • Some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.
  • Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present will not have been destroyed.

3. Cold Water

  • Be sure your sink is clean.
  • Make sure the turkey is in a leakproof package or plastic bag.
  • Fill your sink or a large pan with cold water, enough to cover the turkey.
  • Place the turkey in the water.
  • Check the water often to be sure it stays cold.
  • Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.
  • A turkey thawed in cold water should be cooked immediately


Get Turkey Ready to Cook
Remove the neck and giblets from inside the fresh or defrosted turkey. Place them in a pan with water. Cook them on medium high heat as you prepare the turkey for roasting. Use the cooked giblets in stuffing or gravy. Refrigerate the neck bone and use it for soup. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Wash turkey inside and out with cold water. Drain well and pat dry. Season turkey inside and out.

If you stuff the turkey, do it just before you put it in the oven. Mix the stuffing just before you are ready to use it. Spoon the stuffing loosely into the turkey. Insert a meat thermometer into the center of the stuffing and cook until thermometer registers 165 F. Better yet, cook stuffing separately in a covered baking dish during the last hour while turkey roasts.

Wash hands, utensils, sink and anything else that has contacted raw turkey with hot, soapy water. Prevent foodborne illness by keeping everything clean!


Cook Turkey Safely

  • Set oven temperature no lower than 325 F. You do not need to preheat the oven.
  • Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 ½ inches deep.
  • You may want to add ½ cup water to the bottom of the pan.
  • Baste with vegetable oil or spray.
  • To prevent over-browning, cover turkey with a loose tent of aluminum foil. Keep it on the turkey for the first one to three hours. Remove it in time to let the turkey skin brown.
  • Place the turkey in the oven and roast at 325 F., never any lower temperature, for the recommended time.
  • Never cook the turkey only part way, thinking you will finish cooking it the next day.


Know When Turkey is Done
The roasting times are a basic guide to timing. Sometimes the turkey will be ready sooner, sometimes later! This depends on many things, including how evenly your oven cooks.

The best way to know if the turkey is done is to use a meat thermometer. The temperature must reach 180 F. in the thigh of the whole turkey (or 165 F. in the center of the stuffing inside the turkey) before it is ready to come out of the oven. Cook a turkey breast to 170 F.

Besides checking with the thermometer and making sure the juices are clear, take a paper towel in your hand and move the leg of the turkey up and down. If it moves easily, or if the hip joint breaks, the turkey is done. Any if the meat falls off the bone easily, it is done.

If the turkey is done, take it out of the oven carefully. Let it stand for 15 to 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and before carving. This makes it easier to carve.

Enjoy your holiday meal! For more information, you may call Adrianne Vidrine at the Acadia Parish office (788-8821) or you can visit  the Food & Health section of the LSU AgCenter website.

Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture

Top