JOHNSTON: Food safety tips for Thanksgiving

Published 11:15 am Friday, November 20, 2020

Holiday meals, especially Thanksgiving, often go hand-in-hand with turkey. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that more homes will be serving turkey on the major fall and winter holidays than any other item.

This year, our holidays may look different. We will probably have fewer people at our gatherings, and as a result, may have less to prepare. But it is still important to know updated food safety tips and preparation tricks for turkey specifically.

Turkeys may be purchased either fresh or frozen.

When purchasing a turkey, plan for a little more than one pound per person.

A fresh turkey should be purchased no more than two days prior to the day of preparation.

Vacuum-packaged fresh turkey has a shelf life of up to 10 days. Before you buy, inspect the package and ensure there are no holes or tears.

A frozen turkey will keep up to one year.

Remember to allow adequate time for thawing.

The USDA recommends safely thawing food containing turkey in the refrigerator and/or in the sink using the cold water method, though thawing in the refrigerator is deemed the safest method. Refer to the following charts for thawing times.

If you want to cook your turkey in the oven, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Remove the turkey from its packaging. Do this in the sink to allow juices to drain, but don’t wash (or rinse) the turkey.

Remove the bag of giblets and pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.

Rub salt, pepper and other dry seasonings of your choice all over the bird. Drizzle oil (or butter) generously over the skin and massage. The oil will allow for crispy skin.

Once the bird is seasoned, place it breast-side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Add 1-1/2 to 2 cups of liquid (e.g. chicken broth, water) to the pan.

Place the pan in the oven and cook the turkey until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees measured with a food thermometer.

For food safety reasons, it is best to cook the stuffing separately. If you want to cook a stuffed bird, mix the ingredients right before stuffing and stuff loosely.

Be sure to check the temperature of the stuffing when you check the temperature of the turkey. The stuffing should reach a temperature of 165 degrees as well.

If your turkey already looks done and the skin is a nice golden brown, but the internal temperature has not reached 165 degrees, you should cover the skin with aluminum foil and keep cooking. The turkey is not safe to eat until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, no matter what color the skin is, or the color of the juices.

Remove the turkey from the oven and let it stand for 20 minutes before carving or removing the stuffing. This allows the meat to firm up and reabsorb some of the natural juices. If you start carving immediately, you will lose some of those juices and the meat will be dry

Once you have enjoyed your turkey, remember to store the leftovers appropriately. Eat or freeze leftovers within three to four days. When you reheat them, make sure the temperature gets to 165 degrees.

As much as I enjoy leftovers, it may be wise to purchase smaller turkeys or even consider turkey breast this year, as we will have smaller gatherings and fewer people eating.

The Extension Office has two publications available to pick up that have great information on turkey preparation. It includes alternative ways to prepare the turkey and some good information on what to do with all those yummy leftovers. Feel free to call the office at 859-744-4682 or come on out to get this information.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at