Press Release
 November 25, 2013
Melaney Arnold (217) 558-0500

Time to Take Out the Turkey

How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving?

SPRINGFIELD – It’s not too early to start thinking about the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Depending on the size of the turkey, it can take up to six days to thaw.

“It’s important to make sure your Thanksgiving turkey is completely thawed before cooking it,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. “A turkey that is thawed on the outside, but still frozen inside will not cook to the appropriate 165 Fahrenheit temperature needed to kill disease-causing bacteria. Plan ahead now to thaw your turkey so you can cook it completely and not spoil the holiday because of foodborne illness.”

Turkey Size

In the Refrigerator
(Approximately 24 hours
for every 4-5 lbs.)

In Cold Water
(Approximately 30
minutes per lb.)

Cooking Times
Fahrenheit Unstuffed

4 to 12 pounds

1 to 3 days

2 to 6 hours

1 to 3 hours

12 to 16 pounds

3 to 4 days

6 to 8 hours

3 to 4 hours

16 to 20 pounds

4 to 5 days

8 to 10 hours

4 to 4 hours

20 to 24 pounds

5 to 6 days

10 to 12 hours

4 to 5 hours

Many foodborne outbreaks result from food being contaminated during preparation or when it’s being served by unwashed or improperly washed hands. To avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses, there are some simple precautions you can take when handling, preparing and cooking foods.

  • Clean – wash hands, cutting boards, utensils and countertops.
  • Separate – keep raw meat and poultry separate from food that is ready to eat.
  • Cook – use a food thermometer to ensure all foods are cooked to a safe temperature.
  • Chill – promptly refrigerate leftovers. If they are left to sit for several hours at room temperature, disease-causing bacteria can grow.

Symptoms of foodborne illness may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever or abdominal pain. Symptoms of foodborne illnesses can appear anywhere from 30 minutes to two weeks after eating the contaminated food. Most often, people get sick with 4 to 48 hours after eating bad food.

Some foodborne illnesses will resolve themselves without treatment. However, if the symptoms are severe or if the victim is very young, old, pregnant or already ill, call a doctor or go to a nearby hospital immediately.

Find more information about food safety at

Providing this important health information to the public aligns the Illinois Department of Public Health with its strategic plan to become the state’s public health authority, a place where Illinoisans can turn for health information and education. For a copy of the strategic plan, go to

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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