Family, Guests Will Gobble Up Chefs’ Turkey Creations

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it. Make sure your family and guests stay safe by keeping food safety in mind as you plan for and prepare that Thanksgiving meal.

Thawing a turkey: Plan ahead. Allow for 24 hours thawing in the refrigerator for each 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. You can also thaw in cold water, but you need to change that water every 30 minutes. Refrigerator thawing is recommended. Be sure to have it on a tray or in a pan while thawing in the refrigerator to prevent cross contamination.

Cooking a turkey: When is the turkey done? Turkey and all poultry needs to be cooked to 165°F. Check the temperature in several places. Many people prefer turkey cooked to a hotter temperature. It is safe at 165°F but may be pink in some places, so people often wish to have it cooked hotter. Stuffing also needs to be cooked to 165°F. Stuffing can be baked in the turkey, but a preferred method is to bake it separately.

Stuffing: If you really must stuff your turkey, remember to make the stuffing and place it inside the turkey just before putting the turkey in the oven. Resist the impulse to overstuff the turkey, just stuff it loosely so the inside of the turkey cooks correctly. Plan to use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the stuffing before taking the turkey out of the oven. The stuffing and turkey should each reach at least 165°F.

Temping the bird: Use a food thermometer and check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Do not allow the thermometer to touch the bone, as it may be a different temperature than the meat. Once removed from the oven, allow the turkey to stand for 20 minutes before carving and removing stuffing. This allows temperatures to even out and moisture to be absorbed.

Leftovers: 4-Day Throw Away. Remember to put food away right after dinner. Leftovers should not remain at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. The clock starts to tick when you sit down to eat, so get the leftovers put away as soon as possible. Remember the ‘4 Day Throw Away’ slogan for leftovers. If you don’t think you can eat them within four days, then portion into small containers and freeze on day one. Don’t wait until day 4 to freeze them!

Foods prepared in advance: If you plan to make soup or some other large quantity of food in advance, cool it quickly prior to refrigeration by setting the pan into a sink full of cold ice water. Stir until the food cools and then refrigerate or package in small, thin containers for rapid freezing or even just for advance refrigeration.

Food Safety Resources:

• ISU Extension and Outreach AnswerLine:

Call toll-free Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4:00 p.m.

1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)

1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)

1-888-393-6336 (in South Dakota)

1-800-735-2942 (Relay Iowa phone linkage for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals)

If the lines are busy, email

• AnswerLine Blog:

• Butterball Turkey website:

• USDA Food Safety and Inspections:

Renee Sweers is a human sciences specialist in nutrition and wellness for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Reach her at 712-276-2157 or

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