Cooking a turkey properly makes even the most confident chef just a little nervous, not to mention the millions of first-time cooks attempting the turkey trot to the Thanksgiving table.
There are many commonly held practices when it comes to cooking the big bird that are actually harmful and can cause food poisoning; not how anyone wants to spend their holiday! The Food Safe Families campaign (from the USDA and the Ad Council) wants to make this a food-safe Thanksgiving for turkey newbies and seasoned professionals alike. Below are the top five Turkey Myths that most Americans believe are safe practices. Follow the facts listed after the Myths for a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving with your families and friends!
- Myth: Washing the turkey before cooking makes it cleaner and safer. FALSE It’s impossible to wash bacteria off any poultry, not just turkey, because pathogens live inside the meat itself. Instead, juices that splash during washing can transfer bacteria onto kitchen surfaces, other foods and utensils. The only way to destroy bacteria on your turkey is to cook it to a minimum internal temp 165°F; at this temperature bacteria are killed.
- Myth: Stuffing turkey the night before is a safe way to save time. FALSE. Harmful bacteria can multiply in the stuffing and cause food poisoning when a stuffed bird is refrigerated. The ingredients for the stuffing, wet and dry, can be prepared and refrigerated separately the night before. Stuff the turkey just before you put it in the oven.
- Myth: If one turkey takes three hours to cook, two will take six hours. FALSE In fact, cooking two of approximately the same weight takes no longer than if there were only one bird in the oven. However, make sure to allow a few inches of space between each one to allow the hot air to circulate. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Myth: Thawing on the counter is the best way to defrost your bird. FALSE Thawing on the counter is unsafe for turkey or any meat, poultry and other perishable food. There are three safe ways to safely thaw a turkey— in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave oven. It will take 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight to thaw in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Refer to your owner’s manual for microwave defrosting. The USDA recommended method to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator.
- Myth: Smoked turkey lasts longer. FALSE Turkeys are smoked for flavor, not to extend the time you can keep them refrigerated. Store a commercially smoked turkey in the refrigerator, unopened, no longer than a week. Once the package is opened, use or freeze the bird within 3 to 4 days.
For more turkey basics and to learn how to safely plan, select, thaw and prepare a turkey, check out our Thanksgiving infographic (in English and Spanish), a range of turkey resources at FoodSafety.gov or interview one of our celebrity chefs or USDA food safety experts!
If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey, you can chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov (or in Spanish – PregunteleKaren.gov) or call the USDA Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-535-4555 available in English or Spanish from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.