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Thanksgiving Holiday Help: Plan Ahead

This Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, the Food Safety and Inspection Service is sharing tips that can help take one worry off your plate: foodborne illness. Take advantage of our resources, like the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, to help prepare a turkey that is both delicious and safe for your guests.

This Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, the Food Safety and Inspection Service is sharing tips that can help take one worry off your plate: foodborne illness. Take advantage of our resources, like the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, to help prepare a turkey that is both delicious and safe for your guests.

Cross posted from the foodsafety.gov blog:

Let’s face it, in November, a turkey will most likely find its way onto your menu. Planning ahead can help ensure that your special meal is successful, safe, and stress-free. If you have questions, the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline offers planning tips and shares their top turkey questions and answers.

Plan Ahead

  • Make a guest list: Decide how many people will be eating, plan your menu, and gather your recipes.
  • Clear the fridge: Start using foods that are taking up space in your refrigerator and freezer to make sure you have plenty of room for your turkey, ham, or roast and other dishes.
  • Start shopping: Check your pantry to see what you already have and make a shopping list of needed ingredients. Shopping early for pantry items will reduce stress later.
  • Get the thermometers ready: Buy a food thermometer if you don’t already have one. A cooked whole turkey is safe at a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird and stuffing. If you’re thawing the turkey in the refrigerator, we also recommend using a refrigerator thermometer to make sure the temperature is 40 °F or lower.

Read our Top Turkey Questions

(Answered by the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline)

  1. I have a turkey in the freezer from last year. Can I still use it?
    Yes, go ahead and use it! Food poisoning bacteria cannot grow in the freezer, so your frozen turkey will be safe to eat. A turkey will keep its top quality a full year in the freezer.
  2. What size turkey should I buy?
    Estimate one pound of turkey for each person. That’s enough for ample portions and leftovers. If you’re having a large party, don’t worry: larger turkeys (over 16 pounds) have more meat per pound. A larger turkey will feed two people per pound.
  3. How far in advance can I buy a fresh turkey?
    If you want to buy a fresh turkey, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Some grocery stores will let you reserve a fresh turkey.
  4. How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey?
    The safest way to thaw a turkey is to put it in the refrigerator at a safe temperature (40 °F) during thawing. Allow one day for each five lbs. of weight to thaw the turkey. A 20- pound turkey will take about four days to thaw. After it has thawed, it is safe for another two days.

If you have more questions, visit Let’s Talk Turkey to learn how to safely plan, select, thaw, and prepare a turkey or check out these turkey resources at FoodSafety.gov.

If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey call, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, English or Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov available in English or Spanish. PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish)

4 Responses to “Thanksgiving Holiday Help: Plan Ahead”

  1. Nancy says:

    I bought a fresh turkey breast with a sell buy date of Mon. Nov. 19th to use for Thanksgiving Day. Will it be safe to cook and eat on Thurs. November 22nd?
    Thank you!!

  2. Rebecca [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Nancy – Thanks for your question!

    We recommend using a fresh turkey within 2 days of purchase. After that it can spoil.

    How long have you had your fresh turkey in the refrigerator? If it has been more than 2 days, cut an “X” into the packaging and check the turkey. If it looks ok and smells ok, and doesn’t have a sticky feel to it, it is just fine to use. Move it to the bottom back of your refrigerator where it is colder and protected from temperature fluctuations. You may wish to put it in a brown paper grocery bag with some ice or a cold source to keep it extra cold between now and Thanksgiving Day.

  3. Susie Clark says:

    I have a turkey that I will roast on Friday. It weighs 20 pounds and has only been in the refrigerator to thaw for a day. What is the best way to finish thawing it since I did not take it out in time to thaw completely in the frig. Thanks

  4. Christine says:

    Thank you for the excellent tips!
    The photo, however, makes me a little nervous. I realize there is a plate under the package of ground beef; however, it is on a wire shelf directly above fresh vegetables. I am envisioning the beef purge, which could contain pathogenic bacteria, dripping off the plate onto those beautiful bell peppers! Yikes! I prefer to thaw meat on a plate on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

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