Living Well Los Alamos: Holiday Turkey Safety

Living Well Los Alamos
This is the time of year when we begin planning holiday meals.
Many of us will cook a turkey with all the trimmings to celebrate Thanksgiving. Though delicious, turkey dinners can be potential sources of food borne illness.
Harmful bacteria grow best in temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. The total time a turkey is held at this temperature danger zone should not be more than two hours.
How Long to Thaw?
Weight in Pounds ― Thawing Time in Refrigerator ― Thawing Time in Cold Water:
4-12 ― 1-3 days ― 2-6 hours
12-16 ― 3-4 days ― 6-8 hours
16-20 ― 4-5 days ― 8-10 hours
20-24 ― 5-6 days ― 10-12 hours
How Long to Cook? (325 degree oven temperature)
Weight in Pounds ― Unstuffed ― Stuffed:
4-8 (breast) ― 1 1/2 -3 hours ― 2 1/2 -3 hours
8-12 ― 2 3/4 -3 hours ― 3 -3 1/2 hours
12-14 ― 3 -3 3/4 hours ― 3 1/2 -4 hours
14-18 ― 3 3/4 -4 1/4 hours ― 4 -4 1/4 hours
18-20 ― 4 1/4 -4 1/2 hours ― 4 1/4 -4 3/4 
20-24 ― 4 1/2 -5 hours ― 4 3/4 -5 1/4
How do high altitudes affect the cooking of meat and poultry?
Meat and poultry products are composed of muscle, connective tissue, fat, and bone.
The muscle is approximately 75 percent water (although different cuts of meat may have more or less water) and 20 percent protein, with the remaining 5 percent representing a combination of fat, carbohydrates and minerals.
The leaner the meat, the higher the water content (less fat means more protein, thus more water).
With such high water content, meat and poultry are susceptible to drying out while being cooked if special precautions are not taken.
Cooking meat and poultry at high altitudes may require adjustments in both time and moisture. This is especially true for meat cooked by simmering or braising.
Depending on the density and size of the pieces, meats and poultry cooked by moist heat may take up to one-fourth more cooking time when cooked at 5,000 feet.
Use the sea-level time and temperature guidelines when oven-roasting meat and poultry, as oven temperatures are not affected by altitude changes.
Suggestions and Tips
When buying a turkey, allow 1 to 1½ pounds per person.
A thawed turkey may be stored in the refrigerator and cooked within 1 to 2 days. When thawing turkey in cold water, wrap it securely in plastic wrap so that water is not able to leak through; replace the water every 30 minutes.
A whole turkey, chicken, or other poultry is safe cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F 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.
If you stuff the turkey, stuffing should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Stuff turkey immediately before cooking and remove stuffing as soon as cooking is completed. For optimum safety, cook stuffing outside of the bird, in a baking dish.
Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours. Leftovers should be cooled quickly in shallow pans before being refrigerated. Discard any turkey, stuffing or gravy left at room temperatures longer than 2 hours.
Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days. Use gravy within 1 to 2 days.
References Let’s Talk Turkey: A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey, USDA Food Safety and Inspections Service,
Helen Idzorek is the Extension Home Economist and 4-H Agent for NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached at or 505.662.2656. The Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Service is in the Community Building at 475 20th St., Suite A, Los Alamos, NM 87544. Find them on facebook or visit their website.