Tips to Thaw, Prepare and Stuff your Thanksgiving Turkey Safely


KENNEWICK, Wash. — Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is not for the faint of heart. It takes dedication, expert time management skills, and a list of ingredients that looks like it could feed a small army. From those given the sacred task of quality control to the sous-chef, it’s essential to keep a safe cooking environment for everyone. Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help you keep your family safe from food-borne illnesses and fire. (Burnt desserts and putting out figurative fires over spilling tea…sorry, we can’t help there.)


USDA  showed that 95% of participants failed to wash their hands before handling food properly.”

  1. It’s a good rule of thumb to have everyone involved in the kitchen wash their hands before handling food. 
  2. Keep all surfaces, stoves, and cutting boards clean, especially after handling raw food. In a recent study USDA reported, “60% of kitchen sinks were contaminated with germs after participants washed or rinsed poultry.” (The USDA advises against washing your turkey.)

Expert tip: Be sure to use separate cutting boards—one for meat and another for vegetables and fruit. (USDA)

MichdeptagThaw the Turkey Safely

  1. IMPORTANT: Never thaw a turkey on a counter or in hot water.
  2. The USDA said, you can thaw a turkey safely in the refrigerator, cold-water bath, or microwave. 
    • The refrigerator is a way to safely and slowly thaw you turkey. After thawing, it is safe to store in the refrigerator for one to two days.
    • Cold-water bath or microwave; however, it must be cooked immediately after thawing using these methods. 


Cook Thoroughly

Make sure your turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. Measure the internal temperature of turkey with a food thermometer in all three parts:

  • The thickest part of the breast
  • The innermost part of the wing
  • The innermost part of the thigh 

USDA does not recommend stuffing your turkey because it could be a “breeding ground” for bacteria if it’s not carefully prepared. 

How To Safely Stuff A Turkey

For more information on turkey stuffing, visit Turkey Basics: Stuffing.


  • Refrigerate all cooked/perishable food within two hours of being cooked. If you wait longer than two hours, you enter what the USDA calls the “Danger Zone” (between 40 F and 140 F), which is when bacteria can multiply quickly after reaching a certain temperature. 
  • Leftovers can be safely frozen “indefinitely,” but the USDA said for the best quality, some can only last for two to six months. 
  • When reheating, check that the internal temperature is at 165 F. 

For Thanksgiving food safety questions (From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday):

The Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open on Thanksgiving Day from 8am-2pm EST.