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Safely Prepare Your Turkey

Follow these essential food safety tips for a perfectly cooked bird.
By Janette Klepek, DO

Each year families across the United States dream of a perfectly prepared turkey as the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving meal. Whether you are a seasoned cook or preparing your very first Thanksgiving meal, it is crucial to follow several food safety tips to ensure a perfectly and safely cooked bird. 

Janette Kelpek, DO, family medicine physician in Orland Park, has shared her top tips for a successful turkey dinner. 

Thawing your turkey


How to Thaw

  • Thaw your turkey in a leak-proof container in the refrigerator or in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes.
  • Each 4 to 5 lbs. of frozen turkey will need about 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator. 
  • Never thaw your turkey on the counter. Bacteria can grow quickly in the "danger zone," which is between 40°F and 140°F. When perishable foods are left at room temperature for more than two hours in the "danger zone," they are no longer safe to eat. 
  • Keep your thawed turkey in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. Cook the turkey within four days of defrosting it. 


 Turkey Cooking Internal Temperature


How to Roast 

  • Cook your turkey in a heated oven, set to at least 325°F. 
  • Cooking times will vary depending on the size of your turkey. Using a meat thermometer, check the temperature of the turkey, ensuring it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F for light meat and 175-180°F for dark meat. 
  • Insert the meat thermometer in the thickest parts of the breast, thigh and wing joint. 
  • Let the turkey stand for at least 20 minutes before carving the meat. 


Cooking Stuffing



How to Stuff 

  • Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, always cook this side dish in a casserole and not inside the turkey. 
  • Cook or reheat your stuffing to a minimum temperature of 165°F.
  • Do not refrigerate uncooked stuffing. If you prepare your stuffing ahead of time, cook or freeze it immediately. 
  • If you prepare cooked stuffing in advance, cool in shallow dishes and refrigerate within 2 hours. 



In 2018, the CDC is investigating a multi-state outbreak of salmonella that is linked to raw turkey products. This doesn’t mean you should avoid eating turkey this year. This is a reminder that it is essential to manage and prepare your turkey safely so you, your friends and family only remember a delicious meal and great company. 

Topics and Subtopics: General Health & Diet & Nutrition

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