It’s Turkey Time

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Thanksgiving is this coming week! After Thursday we will be sprinting towards the next big holiday (according to retail stores, we should be halfway to the finish line by now). Regardless of whether you already have your Christmas tree up or not, most of us will be cooking up a turkey in the coming days – you’ve gotten yours, right?

Last week I touched on how you can practice food safety while grocery shopping. There are specific guidelines to follow when selecting, storing, and cooking your turkey. The key is to make sure you are preventing the growth of harmful bacteria that can lead to food-borne illnesses. Follow these guidelines to make sure you are keeping your Thanksgiving feast and guests as safe as possible:

  • When purchasing a fresh turkey, check the packaging for leaks and keep it separate from other items in your shopping cart. Once you have it home, leave the turkey in the bag and place in a pan or on a tray (to prevent dripping) on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Do not keep the turkey in the fridge for more than 3 days.
  • If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey in advance, the best way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge. This ensures the turkey is being thawed at the same rate on the inside and outside. Of course, this takes a little planning ahead of time. The general rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours per 5 pounds of meat, so it would take a 20-pound turkey at least 4 days to thaw. Keep turkey in original packaging and place in a pan or on a try on the bottom shelf of fridge.
  • Don’t wash the turkey. Bacteria, such as salmonella, cannot be simply rinsed off and can transfer onto your kitchen sink and splash to other surfaces. Also, be sure to clean up and sanitize kitchen surfaces and utensils used while preparing the turkey.
  • Use a thermometer to make sure the turkey is done. Check the temperature of the turkey using a digital thermometer in three spots: thickest part of the breast, innermost part of the wing, and innermost part of the thigh. Temperatures must be above 165°F.
  • Don’t let the turkey or any leftovers sit out at room temperature. Leaving leftovers to sit out allows for the growth of harmful bacteria, and it’s important to get them in the fridge as soon as possible. Dividing up leftovers into small portions will help cool food down once in the fridge.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. As hard as it may seem to do during such a busy time, slow down and spend time with loved ones and friends – the dishes aren’t going anywhere, I promise.

Oh, don’t forget about The Very Local Holiday Festival taking place on December 4, 2021, from 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m. at the Robeson County Farmers Market (corner of 8th and Elm Streets). This is a wonderful opportunity to support local farmers and crafters, as well as give back to the local economy.

For more information or questions on how to store and prepare turkey, contact Jessie Jones, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 910-671-3276, by email at, or visit our website.