Let’s talk turkey, for a safe, delicious Thanksgiving meal


By Liz Haynes
SUN Columnist

Editor’s note: We at The SUN were saddened to hear the news that our Viewpoints columnist, Extension Agent Liz Haynes, passed away last Friday. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends, and to her coworkers at CSU Extension.

When the holidays roll around, food safety sometimes takes a back seat in the minds of consumers who are cooking for larger gatherings than they’re accustomed to. Safely cooking and serving the turkey is often the biggest concern, primarily because it’s so big! Careful planning is required to allow enough time to safely thaw the bird and to cook it to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Fortunately, the USDA has several useful fact sheets to help us get through the season without incidence of foodborne illness. Below are some of the pointers addressed in “Let’s Talk Turkey – A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey.”

Fresh turkey

A good rule of thumb is to plan on about one pound of turkey per person. If buying fresh, purchase your turkey only one to two days before you plan to cook it. Keep it stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook it. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. Purchase only frozen, not fresh, pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly.

Safe thawing

There are three ways to thaw a turkey safely — in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave oven.

Safe thawing in the refrigerator:

If thawing in the refrigerator, allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. For a 20-lb. turkey that can mean five or six days to thaw completely. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days.

Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds, as follows.

• 4-12 pounds, 1-3 days.

• 12-16 pounds, 3-4 days.

• 16-20 pounds, 4-5 days.

• 20-24 pounds, 5-6 days.

Safe thawing in cold water:

For cold water thawing, allow about 30 minutes per pound. First, wrap your turkey securely, making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound, as follows.

• 4-12 pounds, 2-6 hours.

• 12-16 pounds, 6-8 hours.

• 16-20 pounds, 8-10 hours.

• 20 to 24 pounds, 10-12 hours.

Safe thawing in the microwave:

For thawing in a microwave oven, check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit, the minutes per pound, and power level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak. Cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate the turkey after thawing in the microwave oven. Be sure and remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook these separately.

No time to thaw?

No worries. Just pop your frozen turkey into a covered roasting pan straight into a 325-degree oven, but allow 50 percent more cooking time to reach doneness. Many people prefer this no-fuss method, which results in a tender, moist turkey. For example, a 12 pound frozen turkey will require 4.5 to 5 hours to reach doneness, while the same weight fresh turkey will be done in as little as 3 hours. Set a timer for 2 to 3 hours, at which point the bird should be thawed enough to remove the giblet bag from the inner cavity. Roast until the meat reaches 165 degree F.

Roasting a turkey:

Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees. Place the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Refer to a roasting times chart for stuffed or unstuffed turkeys. If your turkey does not have a pop-up thermometer, use a food thermometer to check that internal temperature has reached 165 degrees as measured in various places. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For quality, let the turkey “rest” for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. Letting the turkey rest will make carving much easier. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.

For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. If you choose to stuff your turkey, the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time; however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Times for turkey roasting

The timetables below are based upon a 325 degree oven temperature. Use the timetables below to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing.

Unstuffed turkey:

• 4-8 pounds (breast), 1.5 to 3.25 hours.

• 8 to 12 pounds, 2.75 to 3 hours.

• 12 to 14 pounds, 3 to 3.75 hours.

• 14 to 18 pounds, 3.75 to 4.25 hours.

• 18 to 20 pounds, 4.25 to 4.5 hours.

• 20 to 24 pounds, 4.5 to 5 hours.

Stuffed turkey:

• 4 to 6 pounds (breast), not usually applicable.

• 6 to 8 pounds (breast), 2.5 to 3.5 hours.

• 8 to 12 pounds, 3 to 3.5 hours.

• 12 to 14 pounds, 3.5 to 4 hours.

• 14 to 18 pounds, 4 to 4.25 hours.

• 18 to 20 pounds, 4.25 to 4.75 hours.

• 20 to 24 pounds, 4.75 to 5.25 hours.

Optional cooking hints

Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking. This is referred to as “akimbo.”

Add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.

If your roasting pan does not have a lid, you may place a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first 1 to 1.5 hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter. To prevent overbrowning, foil may also be placed over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.

If using an ovenproof food thermometer, place it in the turkey at the start of the cooking cycle. It will allow you to check the internal temperature of the turkey while it is cooking. For turkey breasts, place thermometer in the thickest part. For whole turkeys, place in the thickest part of the inner thigh. Once the thigh has reached 165 degrees, check the wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure the turkey has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees throughout the product.

If using an oven cooking bag, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the package.

Safe handling, storing leftovers

Remember to always wash hands, utensils, the sink and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water. After the meal, discard any turkey, stuffing and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered, shallow containers for quicker cooling. Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days. Use gravy within 1 to 2 days. If freezing leftovers, use them within 2 to 6 months for best quality. Cooked turkey may be eaten cold or reheated. When reheating turkey, use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.


• Question: Can antibiotics and hormones be used in raising turkeys?

Answer: Hormones cannot be used, but antibiotics can. Since the mid 1990s, several different antibiotics have been approved for use with chickens and turkeys to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. They must be withdrawn from use for a certain time before slaughter to minimize the presence of antibiotic residues in the meat. While antibiotics have been quite effective in promoting growth and health among animals, the bacteria they have targeted have also been quite effective in adapting to their harsher environment, resulting in strains of bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant. In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommended a ban on two of the most commonly used antibiotics in chickens and turkeys.

• Question: Are additives allowed in fresh turkeys?

Answer: Additives are not allowed in fresh or “minimally processed” turkeys that are cut into parts.

They are allowed in “processed” turkeys, including basted, ground, canned, cured, smoked or dried turkey products. The additives used must be listed on the label in descending order by weight.

• Question: What are “basted” and “self-basted” turkeys?

Answer: These have been injected or marinated with a solution of butter or other fat, broth, flavor enhancers and other FDA-approved ingredients. The maximum amount of solution that can be added is 3 percent of the bird by weight, and the label must list how much and what was added.

• Question: My turkey meat looks pink. Is it safe to eat?

Answer: That depends. When testing turkey for doneness, pink rubbery meat and pink juices are signs that the turkey needs additional cooking. However, if the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees, the juices have no pink color, and the meat is tender but somewhat pink, the meat should be safe to eat. In some cases, the hemoglobin in the turkey meat can form a heat-stable pink color during cooking that persists even when the product is fully cooked. This can also happen when smoking or grilling a turkey.


The Fact Sheet “Let’s Talk Turkey-A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey” is available at www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Lets_Talk_Turkey.pdf. A variety of other fact sheets on seasonal safe food handling are available at www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Seasonal_Food_Safety_Fact_Sheets/index.asp. The toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline will be staffed with food safety specialists on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time to answer your turkey questions at (888) MPHotline or (888) 674-6854.

Information for the frequently asked questions comes directly from: USDA/Food Safety and Inspection Service website: www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/focustky.htm.

Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.

Pumpkin dip

Serving size: 1/2 cup.

Serves: 8 servings.


• 4 apples

• 1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin

• 2 cups low-fat vanilla yogurt

• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


1. Wash and slice apples. Put in a bowl.

2. Mix pumpkin, yogurt, and cinnamon in other bowl.

3. Serve this dip warm or cold. To warm, place in microwave for 20 to 30 seconds before serving.

4. Dip slices of apples.

Good source of:

• Vitamins A

• Vitamin C

• Fiber

• Calcium

All recipes are designed in a way that one can prepare quick and nutritious meals for busy families. CSU Extension — Archuleta County encourages local residents to eat healthier by choosing nutritious foods and eating more fruits and vegetables. The recipe is provided by the University of Florida Extension and the USDA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.


Nov. 12 — Labor Day, office closed.

Nov. 13 — Rocky Mountain Riders 4-H Club Meeting, 6 p.m.

Nov. 14 — Pagosa Peaks 4-H Club Meeting, 6:30 p.m.