CORVALLIS - There are three ways to thaw a frozen turkey safely: You can thaw it in the refrigerator, you can put it in cold water, or you can zap it in the microwave.

Thawing the bird in the refrigerator takes the most time, according to Nellie Oehler, Oregon State University Extension home economist. The cold water and microwave thawing methods require less time.

For refrigerator thawing, leave the turkey in its original store wrap and place it on a tray. To estimate the length of time until the bird is thawed, allow about five hours per pound, Oehler said. For example, it will take one or two days to thaw an eight- to 12-pound bird, and four or five days for a 20Ð to 24-pound bird.

Immersing the wrapped bird in cold water in a deep pan, ice chest, or clean sink shortens the thawing time dramatically. Be sure to cover the turkey with water and to change the water every 30 minutes. With the cold-water method, allow 30 minutes of thawing time for each pound.

A microwave can be used to thaw smaller birds. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the size of turkey that will fit into your oven, the minutes per pound of thawing time and the power level to use. Because microwave heating is uneven, it's important to cook the bird immediately after it is thawed.

Above all, warns Oehler, don't thaw the bird at room temperature on the counter. Bacteria that can cause food spoilage and illness multiply quickly on the warm surface of the bird as it thaws.

After thawing, remove the neck and giblets. If you're not planning to cook the bird immediately, refrigerate it. A defrosted turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one or two days before going into the oven.

For further information about safe preparation of holiday meals, contact the OSU Extension Service's Holiday Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-354-7319. Home economists and certified volunteers will answer questions weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Dec. 31.

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Nellie Oehler, 541-687-4243