AUBURN, Ala. — With Thanksgiving Day quickly approaching, one of the biggest problems cooks face is how to properly thaw their turkey.
An improperly thawed bird can result in not just a partially thawed bird but also creates food safety issues.
Janet Johnson, regional Extension agent in food safety and quality with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, has a few quick and easy steps to ensure a properly thawed turkey.
When to Begin Thawing the Turkey
When to buy and when to start thawing the turkey is different for fresh and frozen birds.
- Buy fresh turkeys no earlier than one or two days before Thanksgiving.
- Keep it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator on a tray to catch any meat juices
- For a frozen bird, allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds to thaw.
- It can take longer for it to thaw in the refrigerator if the refrigerator is full and the temperature is below 40 degrees.
- Do not start thawing it more than one or two days before cooking.
- Do not let it sit on the counter at room temperature for hours in cool or warm water.
The Best Ways to Thaw the Bird
According to Johnson, there are several different ways to properly thaw the turkey.
- Purchase the turkey early enough to allow for proper thawing in the refrigerator
- Leave the bird in the package and place in a shallow pan and run cold water over the turkey.
- Another option is to place the packaged turkey in a container of cold water, but you must remember to change the water out every 30 minutes.
- Always use cold water because this prevents dangerous bacteria from growing.
The best way to ensure proper thawing is to use correct thawing methods which take time and consideration said Johnson.
Food Safety Problems
Thanksgiving cooks should always be aware of possible food safety problems when they are preparing the turkey.
Johnson warns cooks to beware of the temperature danger zone, which is between 41 and 135 degrees F.
- Dangerous bacteria grows if the turkey is not thawed properly.
- Cooking the frozen turkey in a slow oven, at a temperature of 325 degrees or lower, will cause bacteria to grow.
- Setting the oven at a lower temperature and letting a frozen or partially thawed bird cook longer will put it in the temperature danger zone.
- Some bacteria grows rapidly and produces heat resistant toxins during the temperature danger zone.
- Cross contamination between raw and cooked foods can cause food
Avoid Food Illness
Food illnesses can easily be prevented by making sure the turkey is prepared properly and work spaces are clean.
- Thaw the turkey completely before you begin to cook it.
- The internal temperature of the bird must reach 165 degrees to make sure all the bacteria is killed.
- Always check the internal temperature with a calibrated thermometer and do not rely on the “pop-up” thermometer.
- Wash all work spaces, utensils and hands before starting and once they come in contact with raw meat to prevent cross contamination.
- Cold foods must be kept at a temperature of 41 degrees or lower to prevent bacterial growth.
- Hots foods must be at a temperature of 135 degrees or higher to keep bacteria from growing.
With Thanksgiving Day quickly approaching, cooks should be aware of how to properly thaw the turkey to ensure a delicious bird that is free of harmful bacteria.