Thanksgiving tips from the Illinois Department of Public Health - – Rockford’s News Leader

Thanksgiving tips from the Illinois Department of Public Health



SPRINGFIELD – With less than a week to go before Thanksgiving, it's important to start thinking about what you're going to cook, especially if it's a turkey.

"Two of the most important things to remember to avoid foodborne illnesses are to make sure to fully thaw and cook the turkey, and properly wash your hands, utensils and anything else that comes into contact with raw meats or juices," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck.

If you decide to prepare a fresh turkey, buy it no more than two days ahead of the big meal and make sure you have room to store it in the refrigerator.  If you chose a frozen turkey, make sure the turkey is completely thawed in the refrigerator.  Never defrost a turkey on the kitchen counter.  To thaw in the refrigerator, allow approximately 24 hours per five pounds of turkey.  The turkey should be placed on a tray or pan to catch any juices that may leak.  A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator safely for one to two days.  If the inner cavity is still frozen or even partially frozen when you put the turkey in the oven, the inside temperature will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria.


Thawing Time in the Refrigerator

(40° F or below)


Size of Turkey

Number of Days

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


It is safer to cook the stuffing separately, but if you do stuff the bird, do so just before cooking it and stuff it loosely so it cooks thoroughly.  If stuffing is mixed the day before the meal, pre-mix only the dry ingredients.  Mixing moist ingredients ahead of time allows bacteria an opportunity to grow.


Approximate Cooking Times for Turkey

(325° F oven temperature)


Size of Turkey

Cooking Time

4 to 8 pounds (breast)

1 ½ to 3 ¼ hours

8 to 12 pounds

2 ¾ to 3 hours

12 to 14 pounds

3 to 3 ¾ hours

14 to 18 pounds

3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours

18 to 20 pounds

4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours

20 to 24 pounds

4 ½ to 5 hours



Size of Turkey

Cooking Time

6 to 8 pounds (breast)

2 ½ to 3 ½ hours

8 to 12 pounds

3 to 3 ½ hours

12 to 14 pounds

3 ½ to 4 hours

14 to 18 pounds

4 to 4 ¼ hours

18 to 20 pounds

4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours

20 to 24 pounds

4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours


If you use a turkey fryer, make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don't mix and water can cause oil to spill over, starting a fire or even an explosion hazard.  Most turkey fryers have no thermostat controls, increasing their potential to overheat cooking oil to the point of combustion.

To check the temperature of the turkey, insert a meat thermometer into the center of the thickest part of the thigh, breast or stuffing.  All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165° F.  The stuffing should also reach 165° F, whether it is cooked inside the turkey or in a separate dish.

It is important to immediately refrigerate leftovers.  If they are left to sit for several hours at room temperature, disease-causing bacteria can grow.  Also, refrigerate stuffing and other leftovers separate from the bird.

When eating leftovers, they either need to be very cold (directly from the refrigerator) or very hot (at least 165° F).  Refrigerated turkey and stuffing should be used within three to four days and gravy within a day or two.

Avoid spending this holiday season feeling ill because of foodborne illnesses from Salmonella, Listeria or E. coli (Escherichia coli O157:H7) bacteria by following the above tips.

For more information about safe holiday cooking, log onto

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