Nov 17, 2015
By: Tina Hanes, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA
Each November USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline food safety experts answer more than 3,000 inquiries related to the safe handling and preparation of turkeys and other holiday foods. Here is a list of the most popular questions they hear related to the Thanksgiving meal.
How long will turkey last in the freezer? Is it safe to use a turkey I’ve had frozen since last Thanksgiving?
Yes, a frozen turkey is safe to cook and eat. Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer indefinitely; however, cook within 1 year for best quality.
How should I thaw a turkey? How can I quickly thaw a turkey when time has run out?
Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is the preferred method. Allow one day for each five pounds. In a hurry? There are two ways to thaw your turkey safely—in cold water, or in the microwave oven. If you use one of the quick methods just be ready to cook the bird as soon as it’s thawed.
Is it okay to stuff a turkey? What’s the safest way to stuff a turkey?
For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, we suggest you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. But if you choose to stuff a turkey, we have guidelines you should follow Turkey Basics: Stuffing and use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
Can I cook the turkey the day before Thanksgiving? How do I safely store it and then warm it up for dinner?
Cooking ahead is a great timesaver but requires special attention to safe food handling.
Cook the turkey to at least 165 °F in an oven set no lower than 325 °F. Once roasted, let the bird stand for 20 minutes to allow the juices to set. Carve the meat off, leaving the legs, thighs and wings intact if you like. Refrigerate the turkey in small, shallow containers. On Thanksgiving, reheat the meat in 325 °F oven; cover it with gravy or the natural cooked juices or broth. Serve the heated slices on a platter with the whole pieces garnishing the edges.
Need Help? We’re Here!
If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov. Visit PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish.