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The countdown to Thanksgiving is on and if your bird is still frozen solid, it’s time to make a plan for how you’re going to defrost it.

Germs are not welcome at your Thanksgiving feast! Experts warn to never defrost a turkey on the counter or in a warm oven. Slow thawing in the refrigerator is the best defrosting method to prevent growth of bacteria that can make you, your family and your guests sick.

It can take several days for your turkey to thaw safely in the refrigerator, depending on the size of the bird. Allow about 24 hours for each four to five pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees or colder – that’s four to five days for a 16-20 pound turkey. You can keep your thawed turkey in the fridge for one or two days before cooking it.

For quick thawing, you can submerge it in cold water. Place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag first and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes per pound. That’s eight to 10 hours for a 16-20 pound bird. Cook it right away.

If your microwave is big enough for the turkey, you can follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing.

As you prepare for Turkey Day, please remember: use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. The “danger zone” is between 40 and 140 degrees — the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.

Here are some additional resources to keep in mind for cooking and serving your turkey dinner and handling leftovers.

Click here for the US Department of Agriculture’s Thanksgiving meal guide: Let's Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey. Click here for Spanish.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County has compiled links and videos with many Thanksgiving resources, including meal preparation and stuffing safety, turkey deep frying, proper carving technique and traveling with food.

Talk to a food safety expert about storing, handling and preparing meat, poultry, or egg products at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (toll free) 1-888-674-6854. The Hotline is open year-round Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CST (English or Spanish). Thanksgiving Day hours are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., CST.


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