Food Safety: The Turkey Thaw

November 14, 2013 | Environmental Health, Food, Recipes, Safety

Frozen Turkey Thawing Do’s and Don’ts

Forget to leave your turkey enough time to thaw before the big day? In the midst of all the chaos of Thanksgiving feast preparations, did you forget to pull it out of that freezer?

Think you can just leave the frozen turkey to thaw on the kitchen counter, placed in a bathtub, washing machine, dishwasher, hot tub/sauna, under a heat lamp, or wrapped in an electric blanket to speed up the thawing process?

None of these thawing techniques are safe in terms of foodborne illness prevention.

Bacteria associated with foodborne illness can multiply to dangerous levels rapidly at temperatures between 41 °F to 135 °F. Why jeopardize your family’s health by using some improper thawing method? Save the creativity for something less hazardous—like setting the table inspired by Martha Stewart.

Instead, make it a priority to plan ahead and use a safer method to thaw that frozen Thanksgiving turkey.


Proper Thawing Procedures

It is never safe to thaw food at room temperature. Instead, there are four safe ways to thaw food, including:

• In the refrigerator for a period of time at 41 °F or colder. (Allow 24 hours of thawing per 5 pounds, meaning that a 15-pound turkey needs three days.)

• Submerged under running water 70 °F or colder to float off loose food particles into the overflow for a period of time that does not allow thawed portions to rise above 45 °F. Absolutely make sure the turkey is in its original plastic wrapping; you need it to be watertight or the tissues will potentially be exposed to food-borne illness bacteria and absorb the water. And you’ll have soggy meat.

• In the microwave only when the food will be immediately transferred to the oven as part of a continuous cooking process or when the entire, uninterrupted cooking process takes place in the microwave oven.

• As part of the cooking process. Don’t despair if the turkey is still frozen the morning of Thanksgiving Day. It can still be cooked; it will just take considerably longer. Just remember to remove the package of giblets from the body cavity when the turkey is thawed enough.


These proper thawing procedures should be used to also thaw other frozen foods that you plan to cook for your Thanksgiving feast.


AND Remember!

Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.



For more information of this and other issues, check out our list of Educational Brochures.


If you have any questions please contact us at:

Environmental Health Services

215 West Mendenhall, Room 108, Bozeman

(406) 582-3120


For more information, visit to learn how to safely plan, select, thaw, and prepare a turkey or check out other turkey resources at


If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, English or Spanish.


If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  See more at