The most time-consuming duty for those who host a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is thawing a frozen turkey. It would be so easy if we could just put the turkey on the kitchen counter and leave it there until the thawing process is complete! The downside of this method of thawing a turkey is that we are setting the stage for sharing our Thanksgiving celebration with a foodborne illness.
Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. While frozen, a turkey is considered safe indefinitely. However, if the turkey is allowed to thaw at a temperature above 40 degrees, any harmful bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow. A rule of thumb is that no poultry products should be left at room temperature more than two hours, whether the produce is cooked or not.
A package of frozen meat or poultry thawing on the counter longer than two hours is not safe. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the "danger zone," between 40 and 140 degrees - a temperature range where harmful bacteria multiply rapidly.
Turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator, or in cold water. When thawing in the refrigerator, you need to plan ahead because for every five pounds of turkey, you need about 24 hours of thawing time in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees. For example, an 8- to 12-pound turkey will need one or two days to thaw, and a 20- to 24-pound turkey will need four to five days to thaw.
When thawing a turkey in water you need to allow about 30 minutes per pound to complete the process. Submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.
When you cook your turkey, a whole turkey is done when the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Check the temperature in the thickest part of the breast, the wing and the stuffing. Allow turkey to set 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving to allow juices to saturate the meat evenly.
If the turkey has a "pop-up" temperature indicator, it is also recommended that a food thermometer be used to test in several places, including the innermost part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing.
Following these guidelines will help ensure that you have a Thanksgiving free from food-borne illnesses.
More information on food safety is available at your county extension office or on the web at (www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu).
Gail Slinde is a Ward County Extension agent. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.