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Countdown to a Food-Safe Thanksgiving Day - FAQs

Posted by Laura Scott, FSIS-USDA Public Affairs Specialist in Health and Safety
Nov 12, 2020
Turkey in oven
USDA answers important food safety questions so you can cook your turkey safely. Photo provided by FSIS

Thanksgiving Day is just two weeks away, and it’s time to get ready. Here are answers to important food safety questions so you can cook your turkey safely.

Q: How long does it take to thaw a turkey?

A: The time it takes to thaw a turkey depends on which of these three thawing methods you choose:

  • Refrigerator thaw method (recommended): 24 hours for every five pounds.
  • Cold-water bath method: 30 minutes per pound.
  • Microwave method: follow instructions in the owner’s manual.

The turkey should never be thawed on the counter or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Q: Should I wash my turkey?

A: No. Washing or rinsing any meat or poultry is not recommended, and actually increases the risk you will cross-contaminate germs to other foods you’re preparing. But if you do choose to wash your turkey, you need to fully clean and sanitize your sink. Cleaning and sanitizing is a two-step process. To clean, rub down surfaces including the sink, cutting boards, and counter tops with soap and hot water and then sanitize them with a cleaning solution to remove any residual germs you cannot see. You can use a homemade solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. Let air dry.

Q: Should I stuff my turkey?

A: USDA does not recommend stuffing a turkey for food safety reasons. When stuffed, it takes a longer time to cook the turkey, and you must make sure the innermost part of the stuffing has also reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be challenging with large birds.

Q: Should I roast my turkey breast side up or down?

A: USDA recommends cooking a whole turkey breast side up if it is being roasted in the oven.

Q: How long do you cook a turkey in an oven bag?

A: Oven cooking bags are safe and can be an effective way to speed up the cooking process. For whole, unstuffed turkeys in oven cooking bags, cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for the following approximate times:

  • 8-12 lb. turkey: 1 1/2 to 2 hours
  • 12 to 16 lb. turkey: 2 to 2 1/2 hours
  • 16-20 lb. turkey: 2 1/2 to 3 hours
  • 20-24 lb. turkey: 3 to 3 1/2 hours

Refer to the manufacturer-provided instructions on the oven bags for specific timetables. If you choose to stuff your turkey, add 30 minutes to the times.

Q: How do you cook a turkey in an electric roaster oven?

A: Generally, the cooking time and oven temperature setting are the same as for conventional cooking. Always check the roaster's use and care manual for the manufacturer's recommended temperature settings. Preheat the oven to at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the turkey on the roaster oven rack or other meat rack so the turkey is raised out of the juices that collect in the bottom of the oven liner. Leave the lid on throughout cooking, removing it as little as possible to avoid slowing the cooking process. Cooking bags can be used in the roaster oven if the bag does not touch the sides, bottom, or lid.

Q: Is it safe to cook a turkey overnight at a low temperature?

A: It is not safe to cook any poultry in an oven set lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. At lower temperatures, poultry stays in the Danger Zone (between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for too long.

Q: When do I know my turkey or turkey breast is ready?

A: The turkey is ready when it reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing. If stuffed, make sure the innermost part of the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you stop cooking the turkey.

If you have any additional questions, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

You can also visit to learn more about how to safely select, thaw, and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at

Category/Topic: Health and Safety