Food Safety Tips for your Holiday Turkey
Food handling errors and inadequate cooking are the most common problems that lead to poultry-associated foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States.1 Follow these four food safety tips to help you safely prepare your next holiday turkey meal.
1. Safely Thaw Your Turkey
Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A frozen turkey is safe indefinitely, but a thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe as it moves into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.
2. Safely Handle Your Turkey
Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria. Follow the four steps to food safety – cook, clean, chill, and separate – to prevent the spread of bacteria to your food and family.
Take Care with Leftovers
Clostridium perfringens are bacteria that grows in cooked foods left at room temperature. It is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. The major symptoms are vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours after eating.
- Clostridium perfringens outbreaks occur most often in November and December.2
- Many of these outbreaks have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef.
Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.
Use a food thermometer to check for a safe internal temperature.
3. Safely Stuff Your Turkey
Cooking stuffing in a casserole dish makes it easy to make sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you put stuffing in the turkey, do so just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may then cause food poisoning. Wait for 20 minutes after removing the bird from the oven before removing the stuffing from the turkey’s cavity; this allows it to cook a little more. Learn more about how to prepare stuffing safely.
4. Safely Cook Your Turkey
Set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey. To make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. Learn more about safe minimum cooking temperatures and how to use a food thermometer for turkey and other foods.
- Chai SJ, Cole D, Nisler A, and Mahon BE. Poultry: the most common food in outbreaks with known pathogens, United Sates, 1998-2012. Epidemiol Infect. 2016 Oct;1-10.
- Grass JE, Gould LH, and Mahon BE. Epidemiology of foodborne disease outbreaks caused by Clostridium perfringens, United States, 1998-2010. Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2013 Feb;10(2):131-6.
- CDC: Food Safety website
- FoodSafety.gov: Turkey Tips (En Español)
- FoodSafety.gov: Steps to Follow Before, During, and After Cooking Your Thanksgiving Turkey | En Español
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Let’s Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey | En Español
- USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
- USDA-FSIS: Chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov (En Español), 10 a.m.—6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Web-based automated response system available 24/7.
- CDC: Gear Up for Food Safety infographic
- CDC: Clostridium perfringens website
- Page last reviewed: November 13, 2017
- Page last updated: November 13, 2017
- Content source:
- National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs