If you're wondering just how long you can keep that turkey in the fridge, here's everything you need to know.
With the holiday season upon us, many people are starting to focus on upcoming gatherings and the meals that will be served.
We have a guide to everything you need to know about cooking a turkey, but that doesn’t mean that there aren't still questions around proper handling.
If you're wondering how to thaw a turkey and how long that Thanksgiving turkey can last in the fridge before cooking, here's what you need to know.
How Long Does Uncooked Turkey Last in the Fridge?
If you turkey is fresh and not frozen, when properly stored a raw turkey is good for approximately 1-2 days in the fridge.
This is why we recommend purchasing a fresh turkey approximately one to two days before Thanksgiving to avoid harmful bacteria growth.
Other clues for freshness are manufacturer or processor dates that will often indicate a best by, use by or sell-by date.
These recommendations are not a guarantee that the turkey will be fresh, however, so use your discretion and always check for signs of spoilage.
When you're working with a fresh whole turkey you simplify the process by not having to thaw it, but it needs to be cooked within a couple days of purchase.
Frozen turkey naturally lasts longer, which is why you see so many frozen turkeys available at the grocery store for the holidays.
Many people prefer to buy their turkey in advance and store it in the freezer to avoid last minute shopping.
Frozen turkey is quite dense and holds the temperature well. Thawing a frozen turkey completely can take four or more days, and lots of fridge space, so preparedness is key.
You will, again, want to cook it as soon as possible after thawing and follow the 1-2 day rule from that point to avoid growth of bacteria that can be harmful.
What Happens if You Don’t Rinse a Turkey?
A common misconception is that raw poultry should be cleaned prior to cooking, but in practice this doing so should always be avoided.
The long and the short of it is that rinsing poultry is not recommended as it actually increases the risk of foodborne illness.
he risk that water splashes the raw juices from the meat is high and the heat of the oven will kill any bacteria when the turkey is cooked to the proper internal temperature.
There is only one exception to this rule and that is to rinse brine off a turkey before roasting after brining a turkey.
Most people have success patting the turkey dry and allowing it to rest in the refrigerator until it is time to cook it, but there is a chance that you may have left it in the solution for too long or that you find it too salty to enjoy without rinsing.
To do this safely, here are our top tips for the best way to do so:
- Prepare poultry last. Prepare all foods that do not require cooking prior to handling your turkey. This includes salads, cold sides, and appetizers. Keeping your most vulnerable foods away from any potential cross contamination will decrease your risk significantly. A USDA study reports that 26% of people who washed raw poultry transferred the bacteria to salads! Ick.
- Wash your dishes. Cleaning your dishes and counters with hot, soapy water before handling your bird will prevent any contamination of those items.
- Move other items out of the way. Think cutting boards, knife blocks, dish towels, sponges, canisters, coffee pots, spatulas - anything that might be found on your countertop and touched later. Keep the area wide open, with the only item nearby being your roasting pan, and make sure that the pan is close to the sink.
- Lay paper towels around the area.
- Use cold water. Fill your clean sink with a couple of inches of cold water and very gently run cold water to clean out the cavity. Let the water flow through. Do not turn up the heat of the water or the volume of the spray.
- Drain the bird. Hold the turkey up in the sink and allow all remaining water to drip from the bird, to reduce the amount of contaminants that can drip while transferring it.
- Clean up right away. Keep the trash close by before touching the bird so you don’t walk across the room with wet paper towels. Toss them into the trash, then wash the sink and countertops with hot, soapy water. Follow this step by spraying a sanitizing spray, using the manufacturer’s recommendations as listed on the bottle.
- Wash your hands. The U.S. Department of Agriculture standard is to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Don’t forget fingernails, around and under any jewelry you may still be wearing, between the cracks of your fingers, and up onto your wrists and lower arms. Dry your hands thoroughly, and follow up with hand sanitizer for good measure.
Can You Thaw a Turkey Too Early?
It’s actually a smart idea to thaw a little sooner rather than later if you’re torn on when to start storing your bird in the fridge from the freezer.
A completely thawed turkey is good for another 2-3 days, which buys you a window of time for allowing it to unfreeze.
Be sure the turkey is stored in the packaging or in an airtight container in the coldest part of your fridge to ensure safe storage.
How Long Does It Take To Thaw a Turkey?
It's a good idea to plan in advance when thinking about thawing a turkey - you'll need to know the weight of the bird for starters.
Thawing a turkey can take a lot of time, usually a couple of days for a small bird and longer than that for a larger turkey.
The general rule of thumb for thawing a turkey is that it will take roughly one day for each 4-5 pounds of weight as noted on the wrapped turkey.
This means that a turkey weighing in at 20 pounds will require approximately four to five days of refrigeration to thaw from frozen.
It requires planning, so making sure to double check your frozen turkey’s exact weight, and set a reminder so you don't forget to take it out of the freezer.
To thaw your turkey, you will want to keep your turkey fully wrapped in the original store packaging, and place it in a roasting pan to collect any of the liquids.
Here is a rough guide to thawing for your frozen turkey:
- 4 to 12 pounds – 1 to 3 days
- 12 to 16 pounds – 3 to 4 days
- 16 to 20 pounds – 4 to 5 days
- 20 to 24 pounds – 5 to 6 days
Is It Safe to Thaw a Turkey in Cold Water Overnight?
It is not safe to leave any meat out of the refrigerator at room temperature overnight, even if you are soaking it in cold tap water.
You can defrost a turkey using cold water, but the method needs to be followed exactly and correctly to ensure food safety.
To thaw a turkey using cold water, you will need to first place it in a large zip-top plastic bag.
This will prevent the turkey from becoming immersed in water, and not allow any of the juices from the turkey to contaminate the sink.
Keep your turkey sealed in the original packaging, place it inside the bag, and seal it.
Fill your sink with cold water from the tap and place the turkey into the water, breast side down. This is the thickest part of the bird and will take the longest to thaw.
Using a heavy pan or plates, weigh down the turkey to prevent it from floating. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
Once this timer goes off, replace the water in the sink with more cold water and repeat this process for another 30 minutes.
Repeat this process until the turkey has fully thawed. This can take several hours depending on the number of pounds of turkey you are thawing.
Be careful to never use warm or hot water! Even though you correctly assume that hot water will work faster, this is not safe.
The outer meat will thaw much faster than the meat at the center of the bird and will cause food safety issues that can lead to food poisoning.
Once thawed, will want to cook your turkey immediately to avoid additional food safety concerns.
A turkey that has been thawed using any rushed method is not safe to store in a fridge - it should be cooked immediately for Thanksgiving dinner.
How Long Can You Keep Turkey Leftovers?
If you are looking to keep leftover turkey in the fridge to avoid food waste, it's best to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or stash it in an airtight container.
Doing so is the best option for limiting bacterial growth so you can continue to enjoy your turkey over a couple of days.
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Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.Tags: Thanksgiving, FAQ, Turkey, Holidays, Cooking Techniques