USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service has a few pointers for anxious cooks to ensure that their Thanksgiving Day turkey, chicken, goose, or other poultry is cooked safely and remembered for the right reasons - not because someone developed a foodborne illness. Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety reminds folks that when preparing Thanksgiving foods, take a minute to make sure you have a food thermometer and plan ahead so that you can fully and safely enjoy this holiday meal.
Thaw frozen poultry in the refrigerator. Leave the frozen bird in its original wrapper, and place it on a tray to catch any juices that may leak from the package. Bacteria in meat juices can cross-contaminate other foods that will be eaten without further cooking or that are already cooked, possibly causing foodborne illness. Allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every four to five pounds of frozen poultry. Thawed poultry can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking.
If it's the day before Thanksgiving and there's no room in the refrigerator for thawing, don't panic! You can thaw your turkey by the cold water method. Submerge the turkey in a container with enough cold water to cover the bird, and change the water every 30 minutes. Calculate 30 minutes per pound of poultry for thawing time. As a last resort, cook your turkey or chicken from the frozen state. It will thaw and cook in one step, but it will require 50% additional cooking time. The drawback: you can't stuff a frozen bird.
For more information about cooking turkey, other holiday meats such as pheasant, capon, duck, or goose, as well as stuffing, visit www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Seasonal_Food_Safety_Fact_Sheets/index.asp. Also, you can call the year-round hotline Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST at 1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854.