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When we think about the holidays, we often think about the special meals we eat and the cherished memories we will create. When preparing your holiday meal, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure that the food you are serving is safe to eat. Many times, turkey is the protein of choice for the fall/winter holidays. Below are some things from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and United States Department of Agriculture to keep in mind when preparing to thaw the turkey.

Never thaw the turkey on the counter. When using this unsafe method to defrost, the raw meat is in the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit for a long period of time. This allows bacteria to grow very quickly in number, which increases the chances of getting food poisoning. Instead, use one of the following safe thawing method options:

Refrigerator: place the turkey in a pan that has raised sides to prevent leaking and making a mess in the refrigerator. The USDA has a great reference guide for how long it will take to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. For a 4-12 pound turkey, thaw for 1-3 days; 12-16 pounds, 3-4 days; 20-24 pounds; 5-6 days.

Cold water: put the turkey in a leak proof bag to prevent germs from getting all over the sink and the bird. Then submerge the wrapped turkey in cold water. The water needs to be changed every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed to ensure the turkey stays out of the temperature danger zone. The USDA chart for estimating the time needed to thaw the turkey with this method is for a 4-12 pound turkey, thaw for 2-6 hours; 12-16 pounds, 6-8 hours; 16-20 pounds, 8-10 hours; 20-24 pounds; 10-12 hours. Once the turkey is thawed, it should be cooked right away that same day.

Microwave: when using this method to thaw, make sure to follow the specific microwave manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper thawing. Once the turkey is thawed, it should be cooked right away because this method actually starts to cook the bird in some areas. It is unsafe to store partially cooked food.

Cooking the bird frozen: according to the USDA, the cooking time will take at least 50% longer than what is recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Just remember to take out the giblet packages and make sure the final internal temperature of the bird is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit in its thickest part.

Stay safe and healthy this holiday season. For more information, visit,, or contact Caitlin Richardson at or call 608-742-9693.

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