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Thaw Your Turkey Safely in Time for Thanksgiving

Posted by Jesus Garcia, Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Nov 14, 2023
A turkey in the fridge

The busiest time of the year for USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline is the week before Thanksgiving. Calls, chats and emails are answered by food safety specialists who even work on Thanksgiving Day to ensure your meal is safe.

One question often asked is, “How do you properly thaw a turkey?”

Here are safe ways to thaw a turkey — in the refrigerator or in cold water:

  • It takes 24 hours for every four to five pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator (a 15-pound turkey will take three days to thaw in your refrigerator). A completely thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one or two days before cooking.
  • To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

Remember that thawing a frozen turkey on the kitchen counter — or in a garage during the wintertime (the most common misconception shared by callers) — is not safe. Leaving any frozen package of meat or poultry for more than 2 hours at room temperature is dangerous. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 F — a temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.

For more turkey thawing tips, check out our fact sheet. Learn more about the latest USDA study on safe food handling and thorough handwashing.

Have a food safety question? Contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety specialist or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety