USDA on Turkey Day myths

Published 7:48 am Saturday, November 19, 2022

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Quit food safety confusion cold turkey this Thanksgiving! While this holiday is a great time to spend with family and friends, it’s also time to bust some myths, says USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Myth 1:  Refrigerating a whole cooked turkey is safe

False! Always carve your turkey after cooking. A whole cooked turkey will not cool quickly enough, thus putting it at risk for bacterial growth. Carve the turkey into smaller pieces so it cools faster in the refrigerator.

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Myth 2: Thawing a turkey on the counter is safe.

Never thaw a turkey on the kitchen counter. Once a turkey has sat at room temperature beyond two hours, it enters the “danger zone,” where bacteria grow rapidly. The danger zone is in the temperature range of 40°F and 140°F.

Thawing a turkey in a refrigerator is safe. Allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every four to five pounds of turkey. Turkeys are also safely thawed in a microwave and cold water. When using the cold-water method, allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey and keep it in the original wrapping. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook immediately after thawing.

Myth 3: My pop-up timer is enough to know if my turkey is fully cooked.

Pop-up timers are disposable thermometers used to measure a turkey’s temperature. These timers are a great tool. However, don’t forget to check in the three recommended places as well. The turkey’s internal temperature must reach 165 F in the following locations: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing. Use a food thermometer in addition to a pop-up timer to check the turkey’s internal temperature.

Remember the four steps to food safety:

  • Clean: Wash hands before touching food.
  • Separate: Keep raw meats and poultry away from fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook: Turkey is safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F.
  • Chill: Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours.

For more information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email  to reach a food safety expert or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. The Meat and Poultry Hotline is also open on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.