(KMID/KPEJ)- If you are looking to beat the grocery store crowds this Thanksgiving season, you might be wondering if you should buy a fresh or frozen turkey. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has offered some tips for shoppers:

If you have more than a week before your meal, the USDA said you should buy a frozen turkey. But be sure and leave enough time for defrosting.

The USDA recommends three ways to thaw frozen turkeys: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Never defrost turkey on the counter.

  • It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Allow about 1 day for every 4-5 pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Turkey may be thawed in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. Cook the turkey immediately after it thaws.
  • Turkey thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed.

If you are shopping later, a fresh turkey, or one that has never been chilled below 26 degrees, is the way to go; however fresh turkeys should not be purchased until one or two days before you plan to cook it, unless the manufacturer’s tag has a “best by” or “use by” date that indicates the turkey will be okay on the date you plan to cook your meal.

While buying the rest of your Thanksgiving items, remember food product date tags are not safety dates. “Best if Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of the best flavor or quality. “Freeze-By” indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. “Sell-By” tells the store how long to display the product.

For more information on turkey products, check out this fact sheet