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In The Kitchen

How to Safely Prepare a Turkey

Thanksgiving meal displayed on table, including cooked turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Play Video

Although turkey is often associated with Thanksgiving and the holidays, it can make for a delicious meal any time of the year. Like chicken, it’s important to cook turkey to the right temperature and to follow best practices so you can enjoy a healthy and safe meal.

Always cook your turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a digital food thermometer.

Foodborne illnesses are more common than you might think. An estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses are reported each year, 3,000 of which are lethal. These illnesses can often be prevented by taking simple precautions.

Ben Chapman, a food safety expert at NC State Extension, shares tips on how to properly prepare, cook and store a turkey. Follow these tips and practices to help reduce food-related risks for you and your family.

Tip Sheet

Tips to Safely Prepare a Turkey

  • Thaw the turkey on the inside and outside at the same rate. The best way to do this is using the fridge.
    • There are many ways to thaw a turkey, but they all come with their own risks. When thawing a turkey in the fridge, some juices might drip and contaminate other foods. To avoid this, simply place it in a container or a tray that will catch drips.
  • Don’t wash the turkey.
    • Although people often wash their turkey in hopes that the water will get rid of bacteria on the skin, this practice is actually dangerous. Bacteria, such as salmonella, cannot be rinsed off with water and will transfer onto your kitchen sink and splash to other surfaces.
  • Keep your kitchen clean and sanitize afterwards.
    • Be sure to clean up and sanitize kitchen surfaces and utensils used while preparing the turkey.
  • Check the temperature of the turkey using a digital thermometer.
    • Insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the meat to check the temperature of the cooked turkey. The temperature must be above 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If you want to store it for later, don’t let the turkey sit out at room temperature.
    • Place the turkey in a plastic bag or a container and put it in the fridge as soon as possible.
  • Print Tip Sheet 

What to Do With Your Leftovers

Watch this short clip (2:16) to get right to the meat of the issue and learn how to safely store leftovers like turkey and mashed potatoes.

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