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IDPH - Question of the Week

The best way to thaw a turkey quickly is to leave it on the kitchen counter overnight.


According to the CDC, the second most common form of bacterial food poisoning is Clostridium perfringens and outbreaks from these bacteria most often occur in November and December. Meat and poultry account for 92 percent of the Clostridium perfringens outbreaks. Salmonella illness is also a common source of foodborne outbreaks. It’s clear taking care when preparing and storing turkey is a primary issue at Thanksgiving.


  • Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140°F, which is the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the temperature "danger zone." There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey.


  • Plan ahead; allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40°F or below.
  • Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.
  • A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one or two days before cooking.

Cold water thawing:

  • Allow about 30 minutes per pound.
  • Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.
  • Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.


  • Follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instructions when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.

For more information on foodborne illnesses and their symptoms, visit For information on safe Thanksgiving meal preparation, visit

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