How long is too long to keep a turkey in the refrigerator? Is it better to leave it frozen until I’m ready to cook it? I am thinking of purchasing my turkey early to beat the rush at the grocery store.
I have also read that when you defrost a raw frozen turkey, you should not place it on a kitchen counter at room temperature. Is this true?
Thank you for your questions! Food safety is so important, especially when having a large gathering.
Our food safety guidance for refrigerating whole, uncooked turkey and poultry are 1-2 days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Turkey can be frozen for up to one year.
Signs of spoilage to be aware of:
- Slimy texture
- Color changes
When preparing a turkey, you will need to clean any surfaces the turkey touches with hot soapy water, rinse and apply a sanitizing solution that can air dry for 15 minutes. This includes pans and utensils, countertops and any drips in the refrigerator or microwave. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water when handling raw meat.
You are correct; it is unsafe to thaw a frozen turkey at room temperature. This is because the outer part of the turkey warms up faster than the rest of the bird, causing bacteria to multiply much faster.
The increased number of bacteria also makes cross-contamination much more likely, which is one of the biggest causes of foodborne illness. Some bacteria in cooked foods are heat resistant and not destroyed by cooking, so safe storage and thawing methods are crucial.
Children under 10 years of age, pregnant women, people with reduced immune systems and adults over 65 are more at risk of getting seriously ill from food poisoning. Salmonella can make pets sick too, so safe disposal of poultry is also important.
There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey:
- Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator. Thawed turkeys can be stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
- Submerging the turkey in cold water. If you don't have room in the sink for a big turkey to be thawed in cold water, placing the frozen turkey in its original packaging in an insulated ice chest with water is an alternative method.
- Heating the turkey in the microwave. The microwave manual will have instructions for how to safely thaw a turkey. The turkey must be cooked immediately afterward.
Check out the OSU Extension article Turkey Basics for more information, including how to cook and store leftover turkey.
If you have a question about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the United States Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email them at [email protected]. The hotline offers services in both English and Spanish.
This resource from the USDA has additional safety tips: Stay Food Safe this Thanksgiving Holiday, USDA