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It's no surprise that food costs across the board have been going up due to rising inflation, but this reality can become troublesome during the holiday season as families try to prepare a budget-friendly Thanksgiving menu. And this year, turkey prices combined with an overall shortage in comparison to 2021 will make preparing your regular 18 pound turkey recipe that much more complicated. While grocery stores and restaurants open on Thanksgiving remain optimistic, here's everything you need to know about the 2022 turkey shortage, including expert advice on prepping your Thanksgiving dinner.
Why is there a turkey shortage?
The two major reasons for the turkey shortage is inflation and an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) among the turkey population. But turkey producers' 2019 decision to cut back the number of birds they raise is also making this year even more problematic.
According to USA Today, inflation caused turkey prices to increase as farmers are paying more for feed, fertilizer, and labor. In turn, this has prompted the retail price for frozen and fresh turkey to rise. For example, a whole frozen turkey costs $1.46 per pound on average, compared to $1.15 per pound last year. Meanwhile, the per pound price for fresh boneless and skinless turkey breast hit a record high in September at $6.70.
In addition to these wild price increases, a particular strain of the Avian (or bird) flu has killed around 3.6% of the nation's turkeys. Even though Avian outbreaks in commercial facilities with turkeys have decreased, the loss of 7.3 million birds will still impact turkey production for the rest of 2022. In fact, the USDA is describing this as the deadliest outbreak of HPAI.
What does this mean for Thanksgiving 2022?
Despite this prognosis, Beth Breeding of the National Turkey Federation told USA Today that they "do not have concerns about availability for the holiday." But chain restaurants like Arby's have already declared turkey sandwiches "temporarily out of stock" on certain stores' menu boards, and restaurants are reevaluating their traditional Thanksgiving offerings.
If you are still determined to secure a turkey for this year's Thanksgiving, it is still possible, and we have a few pointers to help you out. Samantha MacAvoy of the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen says that shopping local and ordering a bird from a farm, butcher, or grocery store ahead of time are two great places to start. There are plenty of online retailers like D’Artagnan, Williams-Sonoma, Fossil Farms, and Crowd Cow that sell turkeys, too.
Better yet, MacAvoy notes, "hunt for 'free turkey' deals, which both online and brick-and-mortar grocers offer this time of year. For example, if you sign up for a ButcherBox membership between now and 11/13 you will receive a complimentary turkey in your first box (or, just snag one of their Turkey Boxes from the site)."
We recommend ordering your bird sooner rather than later, and then storing the turkey in your freezer until Thanksgiving. MacAvoy explains "meat can last at 0°F and below for a long time, but should be cooked within 1 year for best quality." That said, you can place your order today, freeze it, and the turkey will still be good weeks from now. When you're ready to thaw, "allow 1 day in the fridge for every 4 pounds of turkey," says MacAvoy.
And, of course, you can get a little creative with your turkey dinner. "Be open to birds that are smaller than what you typically buy. With poultry prices on the rise, you’ll save money, and you can always supplement with side dishes," recommends MacAvoy. Dinner guests can load up on their favorite Thanksgiving fixings such as mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, and stuffing. Plus, there's no stopping you from experimenting with less popular protein picks like roast duck or meatloaf, adds MacAvoy.
While it's not the best year for turkey production, there are still plenty of options (literally) on the table, whether it's a smaller bird or a new hearty stuffing dish that will become your family's favorite.
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