HomeNewsArticle Display

Safety tips for preparing, cooking turkey

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Thanksgiving has come and gone, but turkey is a preferred meal throughout the holiday season and bacteria and food-borne illness are possible when preparing fowl if the cook doesn't take proper precautions.

Those purchasing fresh turkeys should do so one to two days before the holiday. The bird should be kept in the refrigerator until the time comes to cook it.

Do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. Harmful bacteria in the stuffing can multiply quickly.

Frozen turkeys can last a year in the freezer and can be thawed one of three ways: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave.

When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator allow 24 hours for each four to five pounds. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place it in a large pan to catch juices that may leak. Once thawed, the turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days.

When thawing a turkey in water, allow 30 minutes per pound. Submerge the turkey in cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed and do not re-freeze it until after fully cooked.

Thawing a turkey in the microwave requires first making sure the turkey will fit inside, then check the owner's manual for minutes per pound on the defrost cycle and the power level to use for thawing. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing and do not re-freeze it until it is fully cooked.

After your turkey is thawed, remove the giblets from the neck and body cavities to cook separately, then wash the turkey in cold tap water. Set the oven temperature to 325 degrees and place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan.

Cooks preparing turkey should use soap and water to wash their hands, utensils, sink and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices.

Cook stuffing outside the bird in a separate casserole dish until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees for optimum safety and more even cooking.

Those who choose to stuff their turkey should prepare their ingredients ahead of time and keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Mix the wet and dry ingredients right before stuffing the bird. Pack the stuffing lightly in the cavity. As with preparation outside the bird, the stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast. For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. Use the timetables included below to determine approximately how long to cook your turkey.

-- 4 to 8 pounds (breast) ... 1½ to 3¼ hours
-- 8 to 12 pounds ............ 2¾ to 3 hours
-- 12 to 14 pounds........... 3 to 3¾ hours
-- 14 to 18 pounds........... 3¾ to 4¼ hours
-- 18 to 20 pounds........... 4¼ to 4½ hours
-- 20 to 24 pounds .......... 4½ to 5 hours

-- 4 to 6 pounds (breast) ... Not usually applicable
-- 6 to 8 pounds (breast) ... 2½ to 3½ hours
-- 8 to 12 pounds ............... 3 to 3½ hours
-- 12 to 14 pounds .......... 3½ to 4 hours
-- 14 to 18 pounds .......... 4 to 4¼ hours
-- 18 to 20 pounds .......... 4¼ to 4¾ hours
-- 20 to 24 pounds .......... 4¾ to 5¼ hours

It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state, but the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey.

Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than two hours or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. Divide leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling. Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within three to four days and use gravy within one to two days. Use frozen leftovers within two to six months for best quality.

(Courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture)
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.