Raw Turkey Must Be Handled Carefully to Ensure Diners' Safety

Thanksgiving is less than a week away and turkey is on everyone's mind. Americans eat more than 45 million turkeys at Thanksgiving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But, as with all other poultry, careful preparation in the handling of your Thanksgiving bird is vital to diners' safety.

VIDEO: Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips
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Chef and author Sara Moulton dropped by "Good Morning America" to give some quick tips on how to prepare a delicious -- and safe -- Thanksgiving turkey.

Thawing the Turkey

It's best to thaw your turkey in a refrigerator that's 40 degrees or cooler, Moulton said. A good rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.

If you've run out of time, you can defrost the turkey in cold water, allowing 30 minutes for every pound of bird. Be sure to change the water frequently.

Tip: Have an ice chest with plenty of ice on hand. Put your beverages in the chest in order to free up room for the components of your meal, all of which should remain at 40 degrees until they're cooked.

Should the Turkey Be Rinsed?

Raw poultry shouldn't be rinsed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The reason is that when you rinse, you risk contaminating the sink and everything around it with salmonella bacteria.

But, if you'd rather rinse off the juices, you can, Moulton said. You must clean the sink, countertop -- everything else that has come into contact with the raw turkey -- with soap and hot water, and then follow that with a little bleach.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

It's safer not to stuff the turkey, Moulton said. The internal temperature of turkey and stuffing should both reach at least 165 degrees. So, if you let the stuffing get to that temperature inside the turkey, the bird would already be up to 175 degrees.

Some people really prefer the taste of stuffing that has been cooked inside the turkey. If you're one of them, just scoop the stuffing out, cover it and put it in the oven.

Tip: Do not purchase prestuffed turkeys. You should stuff the bird right before it's cooked, and stuffing ingredients should be mostly precooked.

How Can You Tell When the Turkey Is Done?

Turkey must be cooked to 165 degrees. The temperature will rise to 175 degrees with resting time.

Here's a guide, by weight, of turkey cooking times (at 325 degrees):

Eight to 12 lbs: 2 ¾ to 3 hours (unstuffed); 3 to 3 ½ hours (stuffed).

Twelve to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 ¾ hours (unstuffed); 3 ½ to 4 hours (stuffed).

Fourteen to 18 lbs: 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours (unstuffed); 4 to 4 ¼ hours (stuffed).

Eighteen to 20 lbs: 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours (unstuffed); 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours (stuffed).

Twenty to 24 lbs: 4 ½ to 5 hours (stuffed); 4 ¾ hours to 5 ¼ hours (stuffed).

Tip: Use an instant-read thermometer to test the internal temperature of your turkey.

Turkey should rest for 20 to 30 minutes. If you loosely cover the turkey with foil, it will remain hot for up to one hour.

Resting allows the turkey to finish cooking. If you carve the turkey right after it's cooked, without allowing it to rest, the juices will run out and the bird will be dry.

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