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Turkey food safety- Guidelines for buying, storing and thawing your turkey for Thanksgiving

Posted on Nov 13, 2009 by Maggie LaBarbera

It is the kick off to holiday season and you are probably beginning to think about the turkey.thanksgiving-turkey2

Turkey is a very good source of protein, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan. It's a good source of zinc and vitamin B12. The skinless white meat is an excellent high-protein, low-fat food.

Here are some helpful tips on buying and thawing your holiday turkey.

Is your fridge ready? Turkeys are big! Before buying your turkey, check out the fridge and make sure you have room for it.

Should you buy fresh or frozen turkeys? There is really no difference. Some may say that a fresh turkey tastes better. You also have the convenience of not having to defrost it. Buying frozen turkeys allow you to buy early and take advantage of sales.

What size turkey do I need to buy? Purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. You'll have enough for the feast and for leftovers too.

When should you defrost your turkey? A whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. (For example: A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3 to 4 full days to thaw in the refrigerator.) Ideally, purchase your frozen turkey as far in advance as necessary to safely thaw it in the refrigerator. If buying a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1 to 2 days before the meal and keep it refrigerated. Food Safety Guidelines:

  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey.
  • I know my mom would argue with me, but you should never defrost turkey on the counter!
Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. The refrigerator method is the safest and will result in the best finished product. Leave the bird in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan and allow refrigerator thawing time at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. To thaw in cold water, keep turkey in the original packaging, place in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Once thawed, remove neck and giblets from the body cavities and keep bird and parts (if using) refrigerated at 40 °F or below until it is ready to be cooked.

New healthy Thanksgiving resources and printable tip sheets from our family nutrition website:

Cook your Thanksgiving Turkey germ-free! Healthy Holiday Food Substitution Guide Healthy Thanksgiving Themed Place Cards





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