5 tips for cooking the turkey safely

It’s almost Thanksgiving Day, and many people are planning their main course: the turkey. Whether you’re a novice or a pro at cooking the bird, preparing it safely shouldn’t go overlooked.

FoodSafety.gov offers some great safe-turkey tips. Here are five important steps to follow if you’re tackling the task:

1. Plan time for thawing.

A raw turkey garnished with sage sits on a white tray in a white refrigerator. Text reads: Thaw in the fridge. Allow one day for each 4 to 5 pounds of weight.

Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method. The fridge temperature should be kept at 40 degrees or slightly below. Allow one day for each 4 to 5 pounds of weight.

If you’re planning on a fresh turkey, don’t buy one more than two days before you intend to cook it.

2. Prep the bird.

Two images side by side. On the left, a person washes their hands under running water. On the right, a raw turkey sits on butcher paper. Text reads: Wash these, not this.

Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before touching the turkey. This helps prevent the spread of bacteria.

But don’t wash the turkey. This puts pathogens on kitchen surfaces. You can only kill the bacteria by fully cooking the turkey.

3. Use the right tools.

A raw turkey on a white background. A little cartoon man holding a meat thermometer whistles a tune. Text bubble reads: Step aside, folks. I’m a professional.

When preparing raw turkey, use separate plates, cutting boards and utensils. Then wash them with soap and water right away or put them in the dishwasher.

You should also have a food thermometer on hand to make sure the turkey is cooked enough.

4. Cook it right.

A cooked turkey sits on a serving platter surrounded with veggies and herbs. Text reads: Turkey cooking guide. Internal temp should be 165 degrees or more in three places: Thickest  part of the breast. Innermost part of the thigh. Innermost part of the wing

When cooking the turkey, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Check it in three places: the thickest part of the breast, and the innermost part of the thigh and of the wing. It’s a myth that a bird is done when the juices run clear.

If you’ve stuffed your turkey, check the temperature. The center of the stuffing should also reach 165 degrees.

5. Get smart about storage.

A little cartoon man stands on the shelf inside a refrigerator holding a checklist. Text bubble reads: Stored in a shallow container? Check. Stuffing stored separately? Check. Refrigerated within 2 hours? Check. Everything looks good here.

Put cooked turkey in shallow containers and refrigerate it within two hours. This keeps bacteria from growing. And store stuffing separately, not inside leftover turkey.

Worried the bird’s gone bad? When in doubt, throw it out.

Still have questions?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888.MPHotline (888.674.6854) can answer them. You can even call on Thanksgiving Day until 2 p.m. Eastern.

For more information, check out FoodSafety.gov.