Turkey-frozen_406x250If you’re defrosting a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to start now. There are only three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Be sure to plan ahead because birds thawed in cold water or in the microwave will have to be cooked immediately. And, if you choose the refrigerator, a 20- to 24-pound turkey is going to take five to six days to thaw. When you’re thawing meat and poultry, it has to be kept at a safe temperature below 40 degrees F in order to keep any foodborne bacteria that may be present before the freezing from growing again. When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator, you’ll need approximately 24 hours per four pounds. Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods and make sure that your fridge thermometer reads 40 degrees F or below. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended thawing times for a whole turkey in the refrigerator are:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, but there may be some loss of quality. Cold water thawing will need about 30 minutes per pound. Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water. Then submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed and then cook immediately. USDA’s recommended thawing times for a whole turkey in cold water are:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

For microwave turkey thawing, follow the appliance manufacturer’s instructions. Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwave thawing. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed. If you have other Thanksgiving food safety questions, you can call USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving Day itself.

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