By Extension: Do not wash the turkey! And other helpful tips for turkey day

Giving Guide

By Nancy Kershaw & Jessica Linnell, Family & Community Health, OSU Extension Service Tillamook

When it comes to preparing, cooking, and storing Thanksgiving dishes, there are a number of things to plan for. An important consideration is potential food safety hazards that can pose serious risks to your family’s health. During Thanksgiving, protect your family from start to finish with these five tips from Oregon State University Extension Service Family & Community Health Food Preservation & Safety program.

1. Thaw your frozen turkey in the refrigerator. If you’ve got time, place the wrapped turkey on a tray in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days; allowing 5 hours per pound of turkey to completely thaw. If you only have hours and not days, place the turkey in a large ice chest or clean sink. Cover with cold water. Allow 30-minutes for each pound of turkey to completely thaw. Changing the water every half-hour will speed the thawing. Refrigerate when thawed or roast immediately.

2. Don’t wash the turkey! Washing results in splatters that will spread bacteria all around the kitchen and contaminate other foods. You do not need to rinse the turkey before cooking because properly cooking the turkey will kill the bacteria.

3. Use a meat thermometer to know when it’s done. It’s hard to tell if the turkey is done by looking at it. Check if the turkey is done by inserting a meat thermometer in three places – the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the wing and thigh. The turkey is done when meat thermometer shows 165 degrees or higher.

4. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. Bacteria will multiply when the meat is in the danger zone between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Once you’ve taken the turkey out of the oven, it must be served and stored in the refrigerator within 2 hours. It’s easy to get distracted when enjoying time with family, so set a timer for 2 hours to remind you to get the leftovers into the refrigerator. Leftover turkey, stuffing, and gravy will last up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for 2-4 months.

5. Reheat leftovers to a temperature of 165 degrees. Bring gravy to a boil before serving. Reheat sliced turkey and other dishes in a tightly covered baking dish at 325 degrees until it registers 165 on a meat thermometer.
If you would like to read more about turkey: check out these publications from Oregon State University Extension Service: Turkey Fact Sheet and Turkey Basics. Also check out Foodsafety.gov.
You can also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-888-MPHotline (888-674-6854).

By Extension, Your Connection to the Programs, People, and Publications from OSU Extension Tillamook County
Seeking Answers?
Submit your questions to so we can write about what about what matters to you.
Join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter
Find us on the web.