As we approach Thanksgiving, you are likely to see news reports warning about a possible “turkey shortage” that could send people scrambling to get their hands on a holiday bird.

This spring, turkey farms in the Upper Midwest, including Iowa and top-producer Minnesota, were hit hard by an outbreak of avian influenza, which decimated many flocks.

But despite what you may hear in the news, Iowans likely won’t see a shortage of turkeys this holiday season, says Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.

So don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy a turkey before they all get gobbled up. In fact, you may end up saving a little money if you wait until grocery stores start offering Thanksgiving turkey specials, Irwin says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that supplies of frozen turkeys in cold storage are normal for this time of year, Irwin notes. “We’re right on track with where we have always been with supply,” she says.

Part of the reason is that the United States wasn’t exporting turkey while the avian influenza outbreak was at its height, keeping more turkey supplies here in the U.S, Irwin explains. (Note: Avian influenza isn't a food safety issue and doesn't cause illness in humans.)

In addition, the avian influenza outbreak was regionalized to the Upper Midwest, where migratory birds flying north were suspected of spreading the virus. Other major turkey-producing states in North Carolina, Arkansas and California weren’t impacted by the outbreak.

Irwin says Iowans will see turkey prices drop this month as grocery chains start offering specials.

“I fully expect that we will see ‘loss leaders’ for turkey in grocery stores this year,” Irwin says. “So ‘buy a ham, get a turkey for free’ (specials). Or the turkey is under $1 a pound.”

Turkey remains a great value when compared to other protein choices, Irwin says. You can freeze the turkey leftovers to make an endless variety of meals. Irwin says she likes to add a little taco seasoning to pre-cooked, shredded turkey to prepare turkey tacos. You can also use turkey as a pizza topping or add it to a casserole.

“Looking at having that protein available as a quick and easy meal in the month of December I think is great because we seem to be so busy with holiday activities and baking and those types of things,” Irwin says. “Take that meat out (of the freezer), make a soup, make a salad. You just have to be creative.”

So when buying a Thanksgiving turkey, remember you can never have enough leftovers, Irwin says.

“Thanksgiving turkey is always great to celebrate. It’s America’s protein. Turkeys were here long before we were, and so it’s still a great protein to celebrate at Thanksgiving time. It’s at a great price, and they will be available this year,” Irwin says.

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