Plan ahead to ensure your turkey is ready to roast

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(Photo courtesy of The Alabama Cooperative Extension)

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — People across the nation are looking forward to a more normal holiday season this year. To keep this holiday safe and healthy, a food safety regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System says thaw your turkey correctly to ensure that foodborne illnesses do not show up at the Thanksgiving table.

“People often do not understand how long it will take to thaw a turkey safely,” said Janet Johnson, an Extension food safety regional agent. “Large birds can take five to six days to thaw in the refrigerator.”

Food must be kept at a safe temperature of less than 41°F degrees during thawing.

“Never defrost a turkey or any food on the kitchen counter,” she said. “While most of the turkey may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer is in the danger zone between 41°F and 135°F where bacteria can multiply rapidly.”

She offers two methods to correctly thaw turkeys.

Thawing in the Refrigerator

The key to refrigerator defrosting is to plan ahead because of the time involved.

“A large, frozen turkey requires at least a day for every five pounds of weight,” Johnson said.

When thawing foods in the refrigerator, several variables must be considered. Some areas in the refrigerator may keep the food colder than other areas. Food placed in these colder areas will require longer defrosting times. Also, food will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35°F than one set at 40°F.

“Place the turkey in its original packaging in a pan and place on the refrigerator’s bottom shelf,” she said. “This helps prevent cross-contamination with other items that it may come into contact with.”

Thawing Times

Here are some approximate thawing times based on the weight of the turkey:

  • 4 – 12 pounds — one – three days
  • 12 – 16 pounds — three – four days
  • 16 – 20 pounds — four – five days
  • 20 – 24 pounds — five – six days

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one or two days before cooking.

Cold Water Thawing

The second method Johnson recommends is thawing in cold water.

“Thawing in cold water is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention,” she said.

Place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent it from absorbing water, which could result in a watery product.

Submerge the turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Cold Water Thawing Times

These are the approximate cold water thawing times:

  • 4 – 12 pounds — two – six hours
  • 12 – 16 pounds — six – eight hours
  • 16 – 20 pounds — eight – 10 hours
  • 20 – 24 pounds — 10 – 12 hours