Safely thaw your turkey this Thanksgiving

Published 11:51 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during the thawing process. They should never be left out at room temperature, on the counter, in the basement or any place where the temperature is above 40 degrees.

When a frozen turkey begins to thaw, any bacteria that may be present on the meat before freezing will begin to grow. If the meat stays in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees for more than two hours bacteria can grow rapidly.

The USDA recommends three ways to safely thaw food – in the refrigerator, in the sink using the cold-water method or in the microwave. 

When thawing in the refrigerator, make sure you allow enough time. You will need about 24-hours for each four-to-five pounds of turkey when you thaw a turkey in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees.

Also, place the bird in a large pan to collect any juices that may drip and contaminate other food.

A turkey thawed in the fridge can remain in the refrigerator for one-to-two days before cooking.  If necessary, the bird can be frozen again without cooking, but there will be some loss in quality.

For a whole turkey in the refrigerator follow the following instructions: 4 to 12 pounds, one-to-three days; 12 to 16 pounds, three-to-four days; 16 to 20 pounds, four-to-five days; 20 to 24 pounds, five-to-six days.

The cold-water method is simply thawing the turkey in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. You should allow about 30 minutes for each pound of turkey.  Be sure to use cold water and make sure the bird is wrapped securely in a leak proof bag in order to prevent cross contamination and a watery bird. 

A turkey thawed using the cold-water method must be cooked immediately.    

For a whole turkey in the refrigerator follow these instructions: 4 to 12 pounds, one-to-three days; 12 to 16 pounds, three-to-four days; 16 to 20 pounds four-to-five days; 20 to 24 pounds, five-to-six days.

When thawing in the microwave, follow the manufacturer’s directions for defrosting a turkey. They should have recommendations for the cook level and time according to the size of the bird.

Plan on cooking the turkey immediately after thawing, as some areas of the bird warm up quickly and begin to cook during thawing in the microwave. Turkey should not be held for later cooking after thawing in the microwave as this increases the chance for bacterial growth.

Karli Jessie is the extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences at the Jessamine County Cooperative Extension Service.