Thanksgiving Dinner dishes on a table

Thanksgiving Food Safety by Meagan Garibay, RN-BSN, CIC, Infection Preventionist Comanche County Memorial Hospital

With Thanksgiving not too far away, everyone is beginning to have visions of turkey legs and mashed potatoes dancing in their heads. Unfortunately, that Thanksgiving meal can come back to haunt you if it is cooked or stored improperly. Here are some tips to keep you on the couch with a full belly instead of a sick one!



  • Always keep your turkey in the freezer until you’re ready to thaw it, and in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it.

  • When you’re ready to thaw it, there’s a few different methods you can follow for safe thawing:

    • The refrigerator is the safest and most recommended method for thawing your bird. The rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours for every 4–5 pounds. Once it is thawed, it will keep just fine in the fridge for an additional 1–2 days before it needs to be cooked. It is recommended you place the turkey in a large dish on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent raw turkey juices from leaking over other foods. Example: A 20 pound turkey needs at least 4 days to thaw in the fridge, and is safe in the fridge for up to a week. This turkey is safe to go in to the fridge on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

    • Using cold water to thaw a turkey is a bit more labor intensive, but it’s faster than the fridge method. Submerge the frozen turkey in cold water and change the cold water every 30 minutes. Thawing times will vary based on how large your turkey is. A turkey thawed using this method must be cooked immediately after thawing is complete. Do not use lukewarm, warm, or hot water for this method — it may thaw the bird faster, but it will also increase the danger of food-borne illness.

    • Using the microwave to thaw the turkey is the fastest method and is acceptable, but it is the least recommended method. To use this method, you would place the frozen turkey in the microwave (if it fits!) and use the defrost setting, based on weight of the turkey (in general, it will take about 6 minutes per pound). A turkey thawed using this method must be cooked immediately after thawing is complete.

  • Other methods, such as thawing the turkey on the countertop, are not recommended — the risk of food-borne illness goes up considerably when using these methods.

  • Can you cook a frozen turkey? Absolutely! If your turkey is just a little frozen on Thanksgiving morning, it will take just a little longer to cook. A frozen solid turkey will take about 50% longer to cook than a thawed turkey. 

  • Turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the turkey breast. 



  • The “danger zone” for food is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. When perishable food (cooked or uncooked) sits out for longer than 2 hours in this temperature range, your risk of getting a food-borne illness from eating that food goes up. Stick food in the refrigerator within 2 hours to keep everybody safe from getting sick!

  • Ensure food, especially meats, are cooked to the recommended internal temperature.

  • Wash your hands frequently — especially when handling raw foods, and after using the bathroom.