Talking Turkey!

Page archived as of December 5, 2012

The Alexandria Health Department presents these “Top 10 Tips to Keep Your Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner Safe”.

Top Tip 1: Thawing

Allow at least 24 hours of thawing time for each 5 pounds of raw turkey.

Thaw the bird in the refrigerator at 41°F or below in its original wrapping, never at room temperature. Warm temperatures promote bacterial growth. Other safe methods of thawing include: under cold running water that is 70°F or less, or in a microwave (If you choose to microwave, you’ll need to cook the turkey right away.)

Top Tip 2: Defrosted / Fresh Turkey Storage

The USDA advises that you must cook a fresh turkey within two days of purchase or freeze it. Turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days after it's been thawed.

Top Tip 3: Hand Washing

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly during all food preparation and cooking activities, but especially after you’ve handled the raw turkey.

Top Tip 4: Preparation

Remove giblets from the turkey cavity before cooking separately or discarding.

Do not wash the turkey. Studies have recently shown that the turkey juices (and therefore harmful bacteria) can be spread up to 4 feet from your sink during the washing process!

Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item, and before you go on to the next food. Rinse in clean water, and then use a small amount of chlorine bleach mixed with water on all surfaces according to manufacturer's directions.

Top Tip 5: Stuffing

For optimum safety, stuffing the inside of a turkey is not recommended. Ideally cook stuffing separately and check to be sure that it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

If you do stuff your bird, make sure both the meat and the stuffing reach 165°F.

Top Tip 6: Cooking

To know if food has been thoroughly cooked, use a metal stem food thermometer to check the internal food temperature. For safety, cook the turkey until all internal temperatures reach 165°F.

Size of Turkey

Cooking Time


Unstuffed Turkey

Stuffed Turkey

8 to 12 pounds

2 ¾ to 3 hours

2 ¾ to 3 hours

12 to 14 pounds

3 to 3 ¾ hours

3 to 3 ¾ hours

14 to 18 pounds

3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours

3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours

18 to 20 pounds

4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours

4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours

20 to 24 pounds

4 ½ to 5 hours

4 ½ to 5 hours

Top Tip 7: Leftovers

Don’t leave perishable foods at room temperature - Keep hot foods hot (at least 135°F) and cold foods cold (at least 41°F or below).
Discard any leftovers that have been at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
Divide leftovers into small portions. Refrigerate or freeze in shallow containers for quicker cooling.
Cooked foods should be cooled:
• Within 2 hours, from 135°F to less than 70°F, and
• Within a total of 6 hours to 41°F or less.
Cooked turkey will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator, or frozen up to four months.

Top Tip 8: Reheating Leftovers

Thoroughly re-heat any leftovers to an internal temperature of 165°F.

Top Tip 9: Be Thankful

Be thankful for your Thanksgiving Holiday Feast and consider how you might help those less fortunate.

Top Tip 10: Enjoy

By following these simple tips, we hope that you will have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Enjoy your turkey!

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