Thanksgiving Safety: Turkey Tips

It’s a little zany to consider that the way your Thanksgiving host cooks a turkey could put you at risk of injury, but multiple cases have shown that this can in fact be a danger. Wherever you’re going to give thanks this November, make sure your chef knows these risks and works to minimize them for you and those you love.

Thawing Safely

Contrary to popular belief, you can cook a turkey from frozen, but it usually takes several hours longer than roasting a thawed turkey. If your host plans to cook the turkey via any other method than oven roasting, however, it must be fully thawed.

If you’re thawing the turkey, you should do so in the fridge. The US Department of Agriculture has established guidelines for how long you should thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, depending on its weight.

  • 20-24 lb = 5-6 days
  • 16-20 lb = 4-5 days
  • 12-16 lb = 3-4 days
  • 4-12 lb = 1-3 days

Proper storage of a de-thawed turkey is just as important as thawing it thoroughly. Make sure your host’s bird is stored in a pan to prevent dripping within the fridge. Some people are in the habit of rinsing a turkey before it’s cooked, but this is a bad habit—studies have shown that through rinsing, harmful bacteria from the turkey can be spread as much as three feet away from the sink.

Cooking Time

The internal temperature of the turkey’s meat closest to the bone must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature before the poultry is safe to eat. Make sure your host is using a meat thermometer to gauge the turkey’s doneness, or that the juices run clear from the bird and its thigh meat pulls away easily. Covering the turkey with tin foil or filling it with stuffing also affect cooking times—stuffing must also reach 165 degrees to ensure bacteria spread from touching the raw bird is killed.

For an unstuffed, uncovered bird, recommended average cooking times are as follows, though doneness should be gauged by a meat thermometer to ensure safety:

  • 20-24 lb = 4-5 hours
  • 18-20 lb = 4 hours
  • 14-18 lb = 3-4 hours
  • 12-14 lb = 3 hours
  • 8-12 lb = 2-3 hours 

Frying Risks

Turkey fryers cause hundreds of burn injuries each year. Fryers can overheat, topple over, spill oil, or catch fire. If a turkey isn’t completely thawed when it goes into the hot oil, it can cause a boil over that could cause serious injury or fire.  Just ask William Shatner—after he burned down his home deep frying a turkey, he teamed up with his insurer, State Farm, to produce an informational video.

If your host is dead-set on deep frying the bird this year, make sure they’re using heavy-duty potholders and that the deep fryer is outside the house. Bring them a fire extinguisher to keep nearby, and keep children away from the fryer at all times.  If the turkey fryer does malfunction or cause an injury, don’t move it or move anything at the scene in any way, as all the details will be vital for your insurer or any attorney to evaluate.

Electric Knives

Knives of all types present a serious risk for your host while carving the cooked bird, but electric knives especially can be a serious risk. These knives can cut all the way to the bone before the user even realizes they’ve been injured. It’s best to cut the turkey on a flat, dry surface, and cut enough at once for everyone before the meal begins to avoid distraction or stress. Remind your host to always cut away from themselves.

Thanksgiving is a time for family and gratitude, not trips to the emergency room, but doctors say the holiday is one of their busiest days of the year. Follow these recommendations for a safe Thanksgiving you’ll all be grateful for. And if you or a family member does get injured due to a defective meat thermometer, fryer, electric knife, or other appliance or tool, please contact us to see if you have a claim.