How to thaw a frozen turkey safely

I’m making a turkey for the first time because, this year, we’re staying home for Thanksgiving and avoiding our traditional large holiday gathering due to the pandemic. However, as a novice, I’m not sure how to thaw the turkey. What do I do?

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Good question!

It’s very important that you thaw and cook your turkey safely to help avoid developing foodborne illnesses. Thawing a frozen turkey correctly helps minimize the growth of bacteria, which can cause foodborne illnesses. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that might have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey: in the refrigerator, in a container of cold water, or in a microwave.

The USDA recommends thawing it in the refrigerator because doing so allows the turkey to thaw in a controlled environment out of the temperature “danger zone”—between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit—where bacteria can multiply rapidly.

A turkey thawed in the refrigerator takes one day for each 4–5 pounds of weight. So, for example, if your turkey weighs 12 pounds, it can take three days to thaw. But, once thawed, you should cook the turkey within two days to ensure safety, said Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

“If you find yourself needing to thaw the turkey using a faster method, you can place it in a container or sink and submerge it in cold water,” she said. “It’s important that the turkey stays cold, so you need to ensure that the turkey is completely submerged in cold water by replacing the water with fresh, cold water every 30 minutes.

“Turkeys thawed using this method will need 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound.”

Also, keep the turkey in its original wrapping while it is being thawed, the USDA advises, and consider a secondary container to catch juices and condensation as the bird defrosts.

If you want to thaw your turkey in the microwave, you will need to take it out of its packaging and place it on a microwave-safe dish. Use the defrost function based on the turkey’s weight, the USDA says. Generally, allow six minutes per pound to thaw. Once the turkey has thawed, you should cook it immediately.

Here are some other safe turkey tips from the USDA:

  • Don’t wash your turkey! Why? Because bacterial pathogens, which can be present both on the inside and outside of a raw turkey, cannot be washed off. The only way to destroy this potentially dangerous bacteria is to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Washing your turkey or other raw poultry will increase the chance that you spray pathogens over other parts of your kitchen, potentially contaminating your cooking area and sink.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check that the temperature of your cooked turkey reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You should insert the thermometer into three areas of the turkey to measure its internal temperature: in the thickest part of the turkey breast, in the innermost part of the wing, and in the innermost part of the turkey thigh.
  • Refrigerate your Thanksgiving leftovers within one hour of eating to prevent any pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses from growing.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for Ohio State University Extension.

Safe holiday celebrations

With the COVID-19 pandemic still a major issue in my area, how can I celebrate the holiday season while keeping myself and my family safe?

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The COVID-19 pandemic is still a major issue in many areas, with the nation reporting more than 100,000 new cases in a day this week. In Ohio, for example, 4,229 new COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday.

With that in mind, health experts have released guidance on how to have safe holiday celebrations in the midst of the pandemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered recommendations on what people need to know before traveling, hosting, attending parties, or gathering with family and friends during the holiday season.

When planning to host a holiday celebration, the CDC says the most important thing is to assess the current COVID-19 levels in your community to determine whether to postpone, cancel, or limit the number of attendees to your gathering.

Also, if you are hosting or attending a holiday gathering, the CDC says you should do the following:

  • Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities, if possible. If hosting an outdoor event is not possible and you choose to host an indoor event, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces. Also, wear a mask when around people outside of your household.
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather.
  • Host activities with only people from your local area, if possible. The fewer people you are with, the lower the overall risk.
  • Limit the number of attendees. Keep your indoor get-together under 10 people, and limit it to one hour.
  • Have supplies on hand to help you and others stay healthy, including masks and hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • If you are planning an in-person holiday gathering with people outside of your household, consider asking all guests to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
  • Try staggered eating times so that people from the same household can eat together at the same table. Consider eating with spaced-out seating.
  • Use paper plates and disposable utensils, as they are safer to use than regular dishes and flatware.
  • Wipe and sanitize common areas.
  • Avoid having multiple people pass dishes to one another.
  • Use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items such as salad dressings, food containers, plates and utensils, and condiments.
  • Avoid any self-serve food or drink options such as buffets or buffet-style potlucks, salad bars, and condiment or drink stations.

Additionally, make sure that everyone washes their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving, and eating food, said Jenny Lobb, a family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

While holidays are times when families and friends gather to celebrate, the lowest risk for contracting COVID-19 is to celebrate the holidays with members of your own household, Lobb said. However, there are other ways to celebrate without being in the same location, she said.

“One way to include members outside of your household in your celebration is to share recipes with family and friends and have a virtual dinner using a digital platform such as Zoom,” Lobb said. “Create new, virtual traditions like hosting a virtual game night or watching your favorite holiday movie simultaneously using a service like Netflix Party.

“And remember, make sure to include healthy food and beverage options such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low- or no-calorie beverages to help you and your family maintain good health.”

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, OSU Extension.