Frozen Turkey Safety Tips

Reviewed by Eleese Cunningham, RDN
raw turkey in refrigerator

Marcin Pawinski/iStock/Thinkstock

March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.

Download: Turkey Safety Tip Sheet.

To ensure proper handling, storage and preparation of frozen turkey, follow these tips:

Buying

  • Always look for the "safe food handling" label on packages
  • The label will give you tips for proper food handling and cooking
  • Make sure the packaging is tightly sealed
  • Pick up the turkey and other meat items last and ask to have them bagged separately from other groceries.

Storing

  • Make sure the refrigerator temperature is set below 40°F
  • To freeze an uncooked, whole turkey, leave turkey in its original wrapping
  • To freeze uncooked turkey parts, wrap in freezer wrap or tightly sealed freezer bags and mark with the date
  • To freeze cooked turkey, wrap in freezer wrap or tightly sealed freezer bags and mark with the date
  • A frozen, whole turkey can be kept for approximately 12 months in a freezer set at or below 0°F
  • Cooked turkey can be kept frozen for approximately two to six months in a freezer set at or below 0°F
  • Cooked turkey should be eaten or frozen within three to four days
  • Frozen turkey parts can be kept for approximately nine months in a freezer set at or below 0°F.

Preparing

  • Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds before, during and after handling raw poultry
  • Use two separate cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination, one for raw meats, poultry and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods
  • Refer to the "safe food handling" label on the package for proper preparation
  • Thaw turkey in the refrigerator (never on the counter) or in the microwave using the defrost setting or under cold water
  • For safe thawing in the refrigerator, allow about one day for every four to five pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator
  • When thawing turkey in the microwave, follow owner's manual. Cook immediately after thawing in the microwave because some areas may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving
  • Turkey may also be thawed in cold water in its original airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Estimate minimum thawing time to be 30 minutes per pound for whole turkey
  • Do not refreeze thawed turkey
  • Use a food thermometer to cook to a proper internal temperature of at least 165°F
  • When cooking a stuffed turkey, the center of the stuffing must reach 165°F. For safety and uniform doneness of turkey, cook stuffing separately
  • Refrigerate leftover turkey promptly within two hours.

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