Remember food safety when planning for Thanksgiving meal

Published 11:25 am Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Let’s talk Turkey.
This time of year, I get a lot of questions about turkey, so let’s look at some of them here.
First, copy this number down and post it on the refrigerator: 1-800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372). It’s the Butterball help line which is staffed with trained people to answer any of your frantic last minute turkey questions.
Second: Plan ahead. It takes approximately 24 hours (1 day) of refrigerated thawing for every 4-5 pounds. A 20 pound turkey will need 5 days to thaw. So, to serve it Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23) post a note on the freezer, “Take the turkey out Nov. 18.”
Question: Why can’t I thaw the turkey by leaving it out on the counter at room temperature?
Answer: That’s a prescription for food poisoning! Turkeys are so large that the outer part will thaw and be susceptible to bacteria long before the inner part of the turkey thaws out. To safely thaw a turkey, leave it in its original wrapper, place the bird on a tray or in a pan to collect any juices that leak out. Keep it at the bottom of your fridge so that any leakage won’t contaminate anything below.
Question: How long can I keep a thawed turkey in the refrigerator before cooking?
Answer: Up to 4 days.
Question: My turkey is still frozen! What do I do?
Answer: This is undoubtedly the most common question that Butterball receives on Thanksgiving Day. Callers go to the fridge to take out the turkey and find that it’s still frozen. What do you do?
The safest way to do it is to submerge your turkey in cold water (breast-side down) and change the water every 30 minutes. It should take about 30 minutes per pound to completely thaw the turkey.
Question: Should I get a fresh or frozen turkey?
Answer: How soon you do you plan on cooking your turkey? Fresh turkeys are ready to prepare but are best if held in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours before final preparation. Frozen turkeys can be purchased weeks in advance, but need several days to thaw and require adequate space in your freezer and refrigerator.
Question: How do I determine what size turkey to buy?
Answer: The rule of thumb is to pick a bird that weighs 2 pounds more than the number of people you are feeding, e.g., a 10-pound turkey would feed 8 people; and a 15-pound turkey would feed 13.
Question: How do I know when the turkey is done?
Answer: When checking for doneness, always use a properly calibrated meat thermometer which should read at least 165° in the breast and 180° in the thigh.
Question: What are giblets?
Answer: Giblets are the heart, liver and gizzard of the turkey. These parts should be removed from the turkey cavity before cooking but can be used to make rich, flavorful gravy. (That’s especially important if they are wrapped in plastic — melted plastic is not tasty!)
Question: How long can I store a turkey in the freezer?
Answer: You can store an unopened whole turkey in the freezer for up to 2 years. Keep your frozen turkey in a deep freeze rather than a frost free refrigerator as freezer burn could result in a dry turkey.
Question: What does “All Natural Turkey” mean?
Answer: Turkey containing no artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and that is minimally processed (a process that does not fundamentally alter the product) may be labeled “natural.” The label must explain the use of the term “natural” (e.g., no added colorings or artificial ingredients, minimally processed). Source: USDA
Vickie Clark is the Director of the Carter County UT Extension Office and also serves as the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent. If you have questions or need any information related to Family and Consumer Science contact her at the UT Extension Carter County, 824 East Elk Ave., Elizabethton, call 542-1818 or email at

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