Fresh or Frozen

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The holidays are right around the corner and the excitement begins as we anxiously count down to the holiday season. This is my favorite time of the year because it is all about family, eating, watching football, playing board games, and baking, or whatever your family enjoys. It is truly a season for family and making memories. I wrote an article several years ago referencing the song, “Just Fishin?” It’s a song about a father who takes his daughter fishing and the words are, “…and she thinks we’re just fishin’, we ain’t only fishin’. This ain’t about fishin’.” The song is about making memories while spending quality time and having fun. Those are the memories we create and are remembered forever. In addition to all the family time and memories, I also want to talk about food safety and preventing food-borne illness when cooking your holiday dinner.

Fresh turkey – buy 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook it. Keep it in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf and place it on a tray to catch any juices that may leak.

Frozen turkey – can be kept in the freezer indefinitely; however, it is best to use within a year for the best quality.

The USDA recommends 3 ways of thawing a frozen turkey:

  1. In the refrigerator in the original packaging with a tray placed under it. A 4- to 5-pound turkey will take about 24 hours to thaw, 8 to 12 pounds will take 1 to 2 days, 12 to 16 pounds will take 4 to 5 days, 20 pounds will take 5 to 6 days to thaw. The turkey should be cooked within 1 to 2 days after it has thawed in the refrigerator.
  2. Thaw the turkey in cold water in its original packaging. The USDA recommends changing the water every 30 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes per pound of turkey to thaw. Cook the turkey as soon as it is thawed.
  3. Thaw in the microwave, but check the manufacturers guidelines and instructions for thawing. The turkey must be cooked as soon as it is thawed.
  • Wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey.
  • Wash sinks, counters, utensils, and platters thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after working with raw turkey.
  • Do NOT wash your turkey. If you do, you are taking a risk of spreading bacteria and contaminating everything in the area. See video for more information
  • Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place turkey in a shallow pan with breast-side up.
  • Cook turkey according to weight.
  • Always use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey. Pathogens can live in the meat and stuffing that has not reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Do NOT trust the plastic pop-up on the turkey for safe cooking temperature.
  • Let the turkey sit for approximately 20 minutes before carving.
  • If you stuffed the turkey, remove all stuffing, and refrigerate within 2 hours
  • Cooking stuffing in a separate pan is the safest way.
  • After the meal everything should be placed in the refrigerator, with the safest time margin being 2 hours from the time you removed the turkey from the oven.
  • It is best to cut the turkey up and place it in gallon-sized food storage bags.
  • Leftovers stored properly will be good for 3-4 days.
  • Always reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more information, please visit the following sites:

Why NOT to Wash Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Everything You Need to Know About Making Thanksgiving Turkey

Let’s Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey

For more information, contact Wendy Maynor, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, at 910-671-3276, by Email at, or visit our website.