Tips for Safely Cooking Your Thanksgiving Turkey

St. Petersburg, FL
November 12, 2019

Download our Turkey Thawing Times chart here.

Florida Food Safety Systems realizes that as Thanksgiving approaches, cooking the traditional turkey dinner can make even the most seasoned home chef anxious. There are five main things that everyone should remember when it comes to Turkey Safety in their home kitchen:

Safely Thaw Your Turkey
Safely Handle Your Turkey
Safely Prepare Stuffing
Safely Cook Your Turkey
Safe Storage of Leftovers


Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature while thawing. A frozen turkey is safe as long as it is frozen. As soon as you begin to thaw the turkey, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.

A package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter more than 2 hours is not at a safe temperature. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 °F — at a temperature where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.



Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria. There are four steps to follow to ensure food safety – clean, seperate, cook, and chill – to prevent the spread of bacteria. 

    • CLEAN = Wash your hands and surfaces often. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food AND before eating. We recommend disinfecting wipes (such as Clorox brand) closeby for wiping surfaces while preparing food, but if you must use a spray bottle of disinfectant use disposable paper towels, not washable linens. Always be sure to wash your utensils, cutting boards, countertops and any other surfaces that have come in contact with the turkey or other raw meats with hot, soapy water.
    • SEPERATE = DO NOT CROSS CONTAMINATE!! The only way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria to ready-to-eat foods is to keep Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs seperate from each other and other foods. We recommend using separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Also be sure to keep these foods seperate from other foods while grocery shopping and storing them in your fridge. 
    • COOK = All raw proteins must be cooked to a high enough temperature to kill the germs that can cause illness. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked (has reached the proper internal temperature) is to use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is safely cooked by checking its color and/or texture.
        • 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
        • 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork
        • 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and TURKEY
        • 165°F for leftovers and casseroles
        • 145°F for fresh ham (raw)
        • 145°F for fish or cooked until the flesh is completely opaque
    • CHILL = Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. When serving food outdoors where the temperature is above 90°F, refrigerate leftovers within 1 hour.  There are three safe ways to thaw frozen food: in the refrigerator, in the sink while sitting in cold water bath, or in the microwave (follow manufactures directions for microwave defrosting). Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.



Cooking stuffing by itself in a covered dish makes it easy to make sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you want to put the stuffing in the turkey, you must do so just before cooking the turkey. You must use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may then result in food poisoning. To allow the stuffing to cook more, you should wait 20 minutes after removing the bird from the oven before removing the stuffing from the turkey’s cavity. Visit the USDA website to learn more about how to properly prepare stuffing.



A completely thawed turkey should be cooked with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep with the oven temperature set to at least 325°F. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey (see chart on this page for guidance. To make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Before you remove the stuffing and carve the turkey, be sure to let the turkey stand 20 minutes. Learn more about safe minimum cooking temperatures and how to use a food thermometer for turkey and other foods.



The second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning is from bacteria that grows in cooked foods that are left out at room temperature. Clostridium perfringens are bacteria that grows in cooked foods and these outbreaks occur most often in November and December. Quite often these outbreaks have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef. The major symptoms are vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours after eating. Always refrigerate leftovers in your fridge at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.


For more information contact
Danielle Egger, owner Florida Food Safety Systems
(727) 440-5990