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The original item was published from 11/20/2018 9:24:11 AM to 11/23/2018 12:00:06 AM.

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Welfare & Public Health

Posted on: November 20, 2018

[ARCHIVED] Prepare Your Turkey & Thanksgiving Meal Safely

Photo of Thanksgiving dinner spread with turkey and sides. From Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to gather with friends and family for a delicious meal, and safe food preparation is critical to an enjoyable holiday. The Livingston Health Department reminds residents to prepare their turkey and side dishes properly in order to prevent foodborne illnesses. 

Whether it is your first time making a Thanksgiving meal or you have been hosting for years, the following tips and reminders can help ensure that your food is prepared safely.

Thawing a Turkey

First, determine whether you will purchase a fresh or frozen turkey. If you are buying a frozen turkey, make sure you have enough room in your freezer to store the turkey until you thaw it. A fresh or thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days. Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator requires one day (24 hours) in the refrigerator per every four to five pounds.  

Alternatively, you can thaw your turkey by placing it in cold water: allow 30 minutes per pound, and change the water every 30 minutes. A turkey can also be thawed in the microwave if your microwave is large enough. Follow the instructions of the manufacturer. If you thaw the turkey in cold water or the microwave, cook the turkey immediately afterwards.  

Safely Handling a Turkey

Before cooking, be sure to remove any of the giblets/neck, which can be found inside the cavity of the turkey. 

Wash your hands, but not your turkey! It is impossible to wash bacteria off of the bird; cooking is the only way to get rid of the bacteria from your turkey. That means you can save yourself the trouble and mess of washing poultry.

After touching the raw turkey, thoroughly wash your hands. 

Be sure to thoroughly wash cutting boards or any other surfaces with which the raw turkey may have come in contact.

Cooking the Stuffing and Turkey

Make sure you have selected a roasting pan that is large enough for your turkey and has sturdy handles. 

Stuffing can be cooked either inside or outside of the turkey. If cooking it inside the turkey, make sure the stuffing is moist and packed loosely. If you are adding any meat or shellfish to your stuffing, be sure the meat or shellfish is fully cooked before you stuff it inside the turkey. Because it goes into the middle of the bird and is extremely porous, bacteria from the uncooked turkey finds its way into the stuffing. This makes it critical for stuffing cooked inside a turkey to be thoroughly cooked to a minimum of 165˚F to be safe. 

Use the guide below to determine how long to cook a turkey in the oven. Remember to cook the turkey until it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165˚F. If the turkey is stuffed, it will need to cook for about an additional 15 minutes in the oven; be sure the internal temperature of the stuffing reaches at least 165˚F. After your turkey is done cooking, let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Cooking Time for an Unstuffed Turkey

Oven Temperature: 325˚F

8 to 12 lbs
2.75 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs
3 to 3.75 hours
14 to 18 lbs
3.75 to 4.25 hours
18 to 20 lbs
4.25 to 4.5 hours
20 to 24 lbs
4.5 to 5 hours


Make sure any leftovers are put away in the refrigerator within two hours. Once refrigerated, leftover turkey and stuffing should be eaten within three to four days.

For answers to your food safety questions, “Ask Karen” at www.AskKaren.gov (a USDA resource). Find more information at www.cdc.gov/foodsafety

The Livingston Health Department wishes you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving and holiday season!


Visit FoodSafety.gov for more food safety info
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