Food Safety

Turkey Basics - Safe Defrosting

Turkey must be kept at a safe temperature, under 40 degrees, during thawing. There are basically three ways to safely defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave if going straight to the cooking process.

To thaw a turkey in the refrigerator takes pre-planning. Plan for approximately 24 hours for each five pounds of turkey. Place the turkey, still in its wrapper, in a large bowl or pan with sides. This will contain any raw meat juices and prevent them from contacting other foods or refrigerator surfaces. A refrigerator with glass shelves may take longer to thaw than a refrigerator with wire shelves. Should you decide not to cook the turkey, it can be safely refrozen if defrosted in this manner, though there may be some quality loss.

Thawing a turkey in cold water will be significantly faster than refrigerator thawing. Plan for 30 minutes per pound. First, be sure that the turkey is in a leakproof package or plastic bag. This will help prevent spreading bacteria to surrounding surfaces, as well as keep the turkey from absorbing water, which can result in an undesirable watery product. Immerse the turkey in a large pan of cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. A turkey thawed in cold water should be cooked immediately after thawing.

Microwave thawing will be suitable only for small turkeys. Due to differences in models of ovens, check your manufacturers instruction manual for specific directions. Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and start to cook during microwaving.

Frozen turkeys should never be left on the back porch, in the basement, in a car trunk or any place where temperature can not be monitored and assured. Meat or poultry thawed in this manner exposes the food to the "temperature danger zone" between 40 and 140 degrees. The outer surface of the turkey will reach temperatures in this range, while inner surfaces remain frozen.


Defrosted Turkey

Turkey must be kept under 40 degrees during thawing.

Meg McAlpine
Contributing Editor