NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Let’s Talk Turkey!

roasting turkey, food safety, Thanksgiving dinner

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

Who can resist the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, growing ever more golden brown almost by the minute?

Who can resist the taste of turkey – succulent –whether eaten hot with mashed potatoes, gravy and dressing or eaten cold, with mayonnaise nestled in a fresh bun? Who could resist? Someone who’s gotten a foodborne illness from eating turkey that’s been improperly prepared, chilled or stored, that’s who.

You can make sure that the turkey you serve during the holidays produces only compliments. Just remember the four simple steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill. Then follow these tips:


  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before preparing food and after your hands have come in contact with raw turkey.
  • Use clean utensils and work surfaces.
  • Clean dishes and work surfaces after thawing or preparing raw poultry.
  • Remove plastic wrapping and parts inside the cavity.


  • Don’t thaw poultry – or any frozen food – at room temperature. You can thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator for up to four days. Place your thawing turkey on a tray in the refrigerator to prevent its juices from dripping on other foods. Or thaw it in water that’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit or colder (change the water at least every 30 minutes).
  • Use separate utensils and equipment for raw and cooked foods.


  • It’s safest to cook your dressing in a separate container and not inside the bird. In place of dressing in the bird, you can stuff the cavity with onions, apples or a combination of both. If you choose to stuff your turkey the traditional way, prepare your dressing and stuff your bird loosely right before you cook it.
  • Cook breast up at an oven temperature of 325 °F or hotter. Place foil over the breast to prevent overcooking, and remove it near the end of cooking to complete browning.
  • Measure the temperature by inserting the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh muscle. Make sure the thermometer is not touching the bone. Check the temperature about 30 minutes before “done” time, according to the roasting guidelines, and again before serving. The temperature of the thigh muscle should reach 165 F and the juices should run clear, not pink. The stuffing temperature should reach 165 F.
  • Let turkey stand for about 15 minutes for easier carving.


  • Remove stuffing and debone turkey before chilling. Store in shallow containers. Refrigerate immediately after meal and within 2 hours of cooking. Serve leftover turkey within four days. Serve leftover stuffing and gravy within two days, reheating to at least 165 F.

For more information about nutrition and food safety, contact your local NDSU Extension office or visit the Extension Web site at www.ag.ndsu.edu/food.


1) Butterball Turkey at www.butterball.com

2) USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service at www.fsis.usda.gov

3) USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: (800) 535-4555.

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