Don’t let your Thanksgiving go up in flames, tips for a safe and healthy holiday meal

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INDIANAPOLIS — Thanksgiving is right around the corner. For those of you who forgot to get the bird out of the freezer, don’t make a hasty decision that could end up burning you.

If you are thawing your turkey, you should allow around 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds. That means a 20-pound turkey can take up to 6 days to thaw in the refrigerator. It is a bit too late for this if you are just starting now.

Whole turkey:

REFRIGERATOR THAWING TIMES 
  • 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

You can thaw your turkey in some cold water for a faster thaw. The USDA says to make sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, making it watery.

The water should be changed every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed, and should be cooked immediately afterward.

COLD WATER THAWING TIMES 
  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

Of course, you could always follow the example of Sam Beattie, an Iowa State University Extension food safety specialist. Beattie says you can cook a frozen turkey, it just might take a bit longer.

To cook a 12-14 pound turkey that is still frozen, Beattie says you will need a food thermometer, a shallow baking pan and rack large enough for the turkey, and aluminum foil.

Cooking time (at 325 F) depends upon the size of the turkey and final internal temperature (165 to 180 F). Plan on 5 to 5 1/2 hours cooking time for a 12-14 pound turkey, but measure the internal temperature before finally removing the turkey from the oven. The turkey should reach at least 165°F. Check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. 

While cooking your turkey. the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says to be on your guard and stay in the home, checking on the turkey frequently. The main cause of cooking fires around Thanksgiving is unattended cooking.

The NFPA says Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, with more than three times the daily average. In 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,400 home cooking fires.

“Home fires are a real threat to the Indiana Region over the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Leslie Montgomery, Regional Disaster Officer for the American Red Cross – Indiana Region. “In particular, cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires, and year after year Thanksgiving is the peak day for these tragedies. We at the Red Cross are urging families to follow cooking safety steps to help prevent your holiday celebrations from going up in smoke.”

The NFPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission also warn against using turkey fryers. While deep-fried turkey may taste good, there are known dangers of using turkey fryers. Since 1998, CPSC is aware of 222 fire or scald/burn incidents involving turkey fryers, resulting in 83 injuries and $9.7 million in property loss.

If you do decide to use a turkey fryer, Mike Pruitt, Deputy Fire Chief for the Bargersville Fire Department, recommends making sure the turkey is thoroughly thawed and dry. Make sure the fryer is at least 10 feet away from your home and you don’t overfill, or overheat, your oil.

In order to not overfill your oil, Pruitt recommends filling your fryer with water just above the turkey and marking the level.

If you like stuffing with your turkey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cooking it separately in a casserole dish makes it easy to make sure the stuffing is thoroughly cooked. If you are a traditionalist, however, the CDC says to put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking and make sure its center reaches 165°F.

While you may be enjoying your time at the table with your friends and family, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says you should not forget about the food on the table. Your meal has only two hours before it becomes unsafe and bacteria start to multiply. Make sure to put out just enough food for your guests and put the rest in the fridge in shallow containers.

The NFPA is providing these tips to make sure you have a safe Thanksgiving:

Top 10 safety tips
  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stove top so you can keep an eye on the food.
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey, and check on it frequently.
  • Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay three feet away.
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children.
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children alone in room with a lit candle.
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

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