Skip to main content

5 Ways Not To Botch The Turkey

Gobble up these safety tips for a great holiday feast

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, often it’s the more, the merrier. But if you’re prepping the turkey and fixings, you don’t want this guest at your table: harmful germs that can make you and your family sick.

Here are five smart steps to play it safe.

1. Thaw without flaw

Defrosting a frozen turkey on a counter is a mistake. It may lead to bacteria growth. To thaw your bird safely, use one of these safer methods:

1. In the fridge

Keep the turkey in its original packaging. Place it in a tray or pan to catch any messy drips. You can keep thawed turkey in the fridge for up to 2 days before cooking.

2. In cold water

Submerge in its original airtight packaging or a leak-proof plastic bag. Set a timer to change the water every 30 minutes. Once it’s thawed, cook the turkey immediately.

3. In the microwave oven

Got a small to medium bird? Remove wrapping and any metal, such as wire tying the legs together. Use a microwave-safe dish. Follow the oven manufacturer’s instructions for defrosting based on pounds of turkey. Cook a microwaved turkey right away.

How big a bird?

You can calculate the thawing time needed in the fridge or cold water with this handy tool.

2. Don’t cross-contaminate

Raw turkey can spread bacteria in your kitchen. So take steps to keep it separate from other foods. And always thoroughly wash your hands — and any surfaces, utensils, sponges and dishtowels that come into contact with raw turkey and its juices.

3. Take your bird’s temp

Your bird might look perfectly golden brown on the outside. But that doesn’t mean it’s fully cooked on the inside. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. You’ll know your turkey is ready when the thermometer reads 165° F.

4. Be smart about stuffing

Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, one thing’s for sure: Cooking this classic side dish outside your bird is your safest bet. And an unstuffed turkey takes less roasting time — so it’ll be ready for hungry guests that much sooner.

If you choose to stuff your bird, you need to check the filling too. Stuffing inside a turkey takes longer to heat through. So even when your meat is done, the stuffing and juices it’s absorbed might not be safe to eat. The center of the stuffing should also be 165° F before your turkey comes out of the oven.

5. Chill before you chill

After a hearty meal, you’re probably ready to settle in and watch the game — or take a nap! But unrefrigerated foods can start growing bacteria in just two hours. So before you and your gang hit the couch or head out for a game of catch, get your leftovers in the fridge.

What to do next

Get more answers to your burning — or thawing or roasting — turkey questions online or by phone. Check out how the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry HotlineOpens a new window can help.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Want to receive our enewsletter? Subscribe to Healthy Mind Healthy Body® today.

  • If you are a new member, register on® to begin getting the newsletter.
  • If you've already registered on, log into your account and update your Subscriptions in the Account Settings section.

Looks like your browser is a little out-of-date.

Experience at its fullest by upgrading to a newer version of one of these browsers: