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Turkey tips

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Defrosting, cooking, storing and serving turkey can provide bacteria with 4 different opportunities to spoil Christmas cheer.

Turkey should be fully defrosted in the fridge, not on the kitchen bench, before cooking.

Plan ahead

  • a large frozen turkey can take up to 3 days to defrost safely in the fridge
  • the turkey needs to defrost fully in a dish large enough to hold the liquid from thawing
  • if a significant amount of defrosting has occurred between buying it and getting it home, the turkey should not be put back in the freezer. Instead it needs to be fully defrosted then cooked properly. The cooked meat can then be frozen.
  • if it's not possible to safely defrost a turkey at home, buy fresh or ask the butcher to defrost it in their cool room.

Check the fridge

  • 5°C or below is the temperature the fridge needs to be to stop bacteria growing
  • avoid overfilling the fridge. Don't block cold air vents. Avoid frequent opening and closing of the door, to help the fridge keep its cold air inside.
  • things like soft drinks can be safely kept cold in an ice-filled sink or esky.

Make space

  • don't allow any other food in the fridge to touch the defrosting turkey
  • leave it in the plastic wrap while thawing
  • try and place the thawing turkey in a dish on the bottom shelf of the fridge so nothing drips onto foods below
  • if the dish fills, tip the liquid out carefully, ensuring nothing splashes onto other foods or utensils. If it does, sanitise the area by mixing 1 teaspoon of bleach in 3 cups of water.

Scrub up

  • wash hands thoroughly before handling the turkey, especially after nose blowing or going to the toilet
  • wash hands thoroughly after handling the raw turkey
  • avoid preparing food if sick with something like a cold, diarrhoea or nausea
  • take extra care with hygiene if there are pets in the kitchen
  • make sure to use separate cutting boards, knives and other kitchenware to prepare the turkey
  • use clean sponges and tea towels, dry wooden kitchenware in the sun if possible
  • don't wash poutry, including turkey before cooking.

Testing if defrosted

  • a turkey is defrosted if it's possible to put a skewer or fork right through to the bone of the thickest parts such as the thigh or breast tissue

Speeding up defrosting

  • the recommended maximum amount of time that a thawing or thawed turkey can be left at room temperature is 2 hours
  • removing giblets can speed up defrosting
  • running cold tap water into the cavity of an almost defrosted turkey can finish the thawing process off. Care is needed though to ensure the raw juices do not splash onto other foods, kitchenware or bench tops.
  • defrosting programs on microwaves can be used when the turkey is almost fully thawed. Follow the manufacturer's instructions as defrosting a turkey in a microwave can sometimes produce uneven results. The turkey needs to be cooked immediately it is removed from the microwave.


  • some recipes for stuffing can be prepared in advance, frozen, then thawed
  • stuffing must be left to the day of cooking. Leave the task until just before the turkey is ready to put in the oven
  • try not to overstuff the cavity.


  • if it hasn’t been done, remove the plastic bag containing the giblets
  • follow the cooking instructions from the butcher or on the packaging
  • pre-heat the oven to the required temperature before putting the turkey in it
  • the oven will need to be around 160°C or 170°C
  • allow a cooking time of approximately 45 minutes per kilo, so a 4 kilogram turkey will take around 3 hours
  • do not try to cook the turkey at a lower temperature for longer, eg. overnight. This will encourage bacteria to grow.

Testing if cooked

  • if a meat thermometer is used, the thickest part of the turkey will need to be at least 74°C
  • cooked turkey meat is white
  • clear juices - not pink - will run from a properly cooked turkey. Test by placing a skewer through to the bone in the thickest parts such as the thigh or breast tissue.


  • a cooked turkey straight from the oven needs to be eaten or put in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking.


  • turkey is best stored in small containers in the fridge
  • consume within 3 days
  • slices can be frozen for longer periods, then defrosted in the fridge 
  • reheated turkey needs to be steaming hot all the way through - at least 75°C - before eating.

Please remember...

  • Keep it cold
  • Keep it clean
  • Keep it hot
  • ...and check the label.
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