Think safety when cooking a turkey

Published 11:56 am Sunday, November 20, 2022


UK-Boyle County Extension Service

It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and soon, delicious, juicy turkeys will take center stage at many of our holiday meals. It’s so important to properly cook and prepare these birds, because you don’t want anyone to get sick from a food-borne illness.

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It does not matter whether you purchase a fresh or frozen turkey. But if you plan to purchase a pre-stuffed turkey, make sure it is frozen and has a seal that states it was inspected by either the U.S. Department of Agriculture or a state department of agriculture. The USDA does not recommend that you purchase a fresh, pre-stuffed turkey, because if handled incorrectly, harmful bacteria can quickly grow in the stuffing.

You can safely thaw turkeys in either the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave if the turkey is cooked immediately. You can safely cook a frozen turkey but realize that it will need to cook at least 50% longer than a thawed one.

Once you are ready to cook your turkey, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit and place it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. You can add one-half cup of water to the bottom of the pan to keep the turkey moist. For optimal food safety, the USDA recommends that you separately cook the turkey and stuffing, so you can make sure both items reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Measure the turkey’s internal temperature with a food thermometer, even if the turkey includes a pop-up thermometer. Check the temperature in several locations including the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing to make sure the temperature is 165 degrees throughout.

Remember to store leftovers within two hours after the meal. Discard any food that’s been left out longer than that. To make reheating easier, divide leftovers into small portions. Eat refrigerated leftovers within three to four days. Frozen leftovers will keep for two to six months. Remember when reheating leftovers, make sure the internal temperature of the food is at least 165 degrees.

More food safety information and timetables for proper thawing and cooking are available on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at For additional food safety information, contact the Boyle County Extension office. Call me at 859-236-4484 or email me at

Althea Bruzek is UK-Boyle County extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences. For more information on food preparation and safety, contact the Boyle County Extension Office. Call me at 859-236-4484 or email