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While Thanksgiving is all about food, family, fun and some football, lurking among the managed chaos in the kitchen is something called “The Danger Zone”. To help keep your family safe and healthy this holiday, the temperature of food should always stay either above or below “The Danger Zone”, 40 to 140 degrees. When thawing a turkey, it is especially important to do so correctly, or any bacteria that were on the frozen turkey prior to freezing could begin to grow again if the temperature reaches above 40 degrees. Here are some suggestions from the USDA on how to properly thaw a frozen turkey.

Keep Frozen until Ready to Thaw – A frozen turkey should be taken directly home from the grocery store and placed in a freezer. It is not safe to store a frozen turkey outside, in a cooler or any place where the temperature cannot be controlled.

Do Not Thaw on the Counter – Assuming that frozen meat or poultry will thaw safely at room temperature could potentially put your family in danger. While the inside of the turkey takes longer to thaw, the outer layer could quickly reach above 40 degrees, allowing bacteria to grow.

Thawing in a Refrigerator – A refrigerator is a great place to thaw your turkey, as long as the temperature of the refrigerator is set at 40 degrees or below. It takes approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. Plan ahead and your turkey will be safely and perfectly thawed by the time you are ready to cook.

Thawing in Cool Water – Another way to safely thaw a turkey is wrapped securely in a leak-proof bag and submerged in cool water. Allowing 30 minutes per pound, change the water every 30 minutes to ensure a proper thawing temperature.

Thawing in a Microwave – The fasted way to thaw a turkey is in the microwave oven. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for defrosting the turkey according to the size and weight.

Know When to Cook – If you thaw a turkey in the refrigerator, you have 1 to 2 days before it is necessary to cook the turkey. However, if you thaw your turkey in cold water or in the microwave, you must cook it immediately following thawing.

Once thawed, do not wash or clean your turkey in the sink. According to a British study, bacteria can spread up to 3 feet away when doing this. Today’s turkeys are safe to season and cook immediately, without washing. Also, if you have purchased a stuffed frozen turkey, you must cook from the frozen state. Allowing the stuffed turkey to thaw will create opportunities for bacteria to grow in the stuffing. Make sure you clean surfaces which may have come in contact with any turkey juices with a cleanser or wipes containing bleach to kill bacteria left behind.

Follow these steps to ensure a safe holiday meal!

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