It’s not your grandmother’s turkey

Media Contact: Todd McLeish 874-7892

URI food safety expert says traditional cooking methods may be unsafe

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 17, 2003 — Planning and preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a time filled with memories and traditions. But according to a food safety expert at the University of Rhode Island, some of the traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation may be “a food safety disaster waiting to happen.”

In times past, for example, the turkey was placed in the oven at a very low temperature the night before Thanksgiving and slow-roasted for hours as a means of tenderizing the bird.

“Today, we know this cooking method is a food safety disaster waiting to happen,” said Martha Patnoad, food safety education specialist at the URI Cooperative Extension. “Low temperature, long term cooking provides the perfect conditions for bacterial growth.”

To ensure a safe Thanksgiving meal, Patnoad suggests following these turkey roasting instructions:

1. A turkey will be properly cooked when it is heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. The only accurate way tell if the turkey has been heated thoroughly is to use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked turkey.

2. If you choose to stuff the turkey, always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of both the turkey and the stuffing. The temperature of a whole turkey must reach 180 °F in the innermost part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing must reach 165 °F. If the stuffing has not reached 165 °F, continue cooking the turkey until the stuffing reaches that temperature. Even turkeys supplied with a “pop-up” temperature indicator should be tested with a food thermometer in several places.

3. Pay attention to the many factors that can affect the roasting time of a whole turkey. A frozen or partially frozen turkey takes longer to cook than a completely thawed turkey. A turkey will cook faster in a dark roasting pan. The depth and size of the pan can affect heat circulation to all areas of the turkey. The use of a foil tent for the entire cooking time can slow cooking. Putting a lid on the roasting pan speeds up cooking. An oven- cooking bag will shorten cooking time. A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than an unstuffed turkey. Ovens may heat unevenly. The oven rack position can have an effect on even cooking and heat circulation.

According to Patnoad, time charts for approximate cooking times are based on fresh or completely thawed turkeys at a refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below. Frozen or partially thawed turkeys will take longer to cook. The cooking time for a frozen turkey may be at least 50 percent longer than the time recommended for a fully thawed turkey. These cooking times are guidelines only. Use a food thermometer to determine safe doneness.

For more information on Food Safety call the URI Gardening/Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-448-1011, Monday-Thursday from 9am to 2pm.

Recommended Turkey Cooking Times


4 to 6 lbs. Breast 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hrs.
6 to 8 lbs. Breast 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hrs.
8 to 12 lbs 2 3/4 to 3 hrs.
12 to 14 lbs 3 to 3 3/4 hrs.
14 to 18 lbs 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs.
18 to 20 lbs 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs.
20 to 24 lbs 4 1/2 to 5 hrs.


8 to 12 lbs 3 to 3 1/2 hrs.
12 to 14 lbs 3 1/2 to 4 hrs.
14 to 18 lbs 4 to 4 1/4 hrs.
18 to 20 lbs 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hrs.
20 to 24 lbs 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hrs.

Ten Food Safety Rules for a FoodSafe Holiday Season

1. Wash hands with warm water and soap thoroughly before handling and preparing foods. Practice good personal hygiene.
2. Practice good sanitation. Keep food preparation and serving areas, food preparation and serving equipment including plates, silverware, bowls, pans and utensils clean.
3. Separate, do not cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry or seafood away from cooked and/or ready to eat foods.
4. Cook meat, seafood and poultry to the correct internal temperature. Use a food thermometer.
5. Avoid partial cooking because it allows bacteria to grow. Cook meat, poultry and seafood thoroughly at one time.
6. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cold food should be kept at 40 °F and hot food should be kept at 140 °F, especially during buffet service.
7. Do not cool leftovers on the kitchen counter. Divide them into smaller portions place in the refrigerator so they will cool quickly.
8. Reheat all foods thoroughly to a temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming.
9. Store foods in the correct place. Read the labels if unsure.
10. When in doubt, throw it out.

For Further Information: Martha Patnoad 874-2960