Publix Insider Explains Cold Turkey Office Party

On Tuesday, we published the story of a woman who ordered a turkey from a Publix supermarket deli for her office’s Thanksgiving celebration, only to discover that her “fully cooked” turkey was cooked, but cold. This was a problem. Her story had a happy ending, but we heard from a Publix employee who confirmed that selling a cold turkey with no warning is wrong…and would lead to trouble for any employee who tried it at our tipster’s store.

The turkeys, as it turns out, can’t be sold hot not just for health code reasons, but because they aren’t cooked in the deli in the first place. They are cooked, frozen, then delivered to stores to thaw before sale.

I’ve been working in one of busiest Publix delis there are for 5 years now, so I know the inside info for what is SUPPOSED to happen. And what I’ve been doing and training people to do since day 1.

1. Yes, the people working there screwed up, no question about it. When taking the orders for these dinners/birds, we are REQUIRED to tell them that it does not come hot. They come to us frozen, and we thaw them out in our coolers. It is fully cooked, it’s not raw, but it is cold, and you will have to heat it up at home. Takes about 2 hours for the bird. Takes a lot longer for a raw bird. This all must be explained when taking an order for the turkeys. If needed, write it out on the customer’s copy of the order. Carbon copy is wonderful if old technology.

2. If someone asks why they come cold, here’s why. We are not allowed to let any of the those turkeys or sides out hot. It’s a health code violation and a liability issue. We also have no way to heat the birds, our ovens are not built for that kind of capacity. And even if we could, we have no way to keep all that food hot. Publix is also closed on Thanksgiving, so that’s another reason, you don’t want to pick up a hot meal and have to wait till the next day to eat it. And yes, even with these reasons, we do get people who get mad at us that the turkeys are not hot. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it.

3. The de-boning thing. The reason for the fee is that it actually takes a lot of work to get those things de-boned. They are very cold (38 degrees or less) when we take all the meat of the bone, not warm at all. This is done for health code reasons, so there’s little to no chance of bacterial growth. And unfortunately, most stores do not have electric knives to do this with, I wish we did. So we’re using either paring knives, or really big bread knives. It takes a while, and that’s all time spent not helping customers on counter/sub shop/wherever.

I just thought the whole fiasco was crazy, and feel so sorry for the OP. I think I can honestly say if this happened at my store, some one would be suspended for a good while if not completely losing their job.

Thanks for the info, Publix tipster!

Is A “Fully-Cooked” Turkey Supposed To Be Hot?

(Photo: dvs)


Edit Your Comment

  1. tbax929 says:

    I think the real issue is that the buyer wasn’t informed that the turkey would be given to her cold, not that their policy is to only sell cold turkeys. Publix should make sure customers are advised of this so they can decide whether or not they want to buy their turkey from Publix.

    • valueofaloonie says:

      Um, did you actually read the story? I quote: “When taking the orders for these dinners/birds, we are REQUIRED to tell them that it does not come hot.”

      The person who took the order was supposed to tell the OP that the bird didn’t come hot.

      • tbax929 says:

        Um, did you actually read my post? The OP was clearly NOT TOLD the turkey would be cold.

        • ElizabethD says:

          I think valueofaloonie’s point was that you were basically reiterating the point of the post. But when you say “the real issue is…” it sounds like you’re objecting to the post or adding a different angle. That’s all. NBD.

    • coren says:

      Well, yes it is. But that’s why this was posted, to explain both why that is policy and to explain that policy was violated here.

  2. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Is there a reason why turkeys can’t be sold hot like chickens can be sold hot off the rotisserie?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Ack, further explanations go in words, not just in my head, Pi! What I meant to keep typing was, is the rotisserie just unable to accomodate four turkeys rather than six seven chickens? Is it that you can heat fewer turkeys, or is the oven just unable to handle the weight, even if you can put on the rod three turkeys rather than five chickens…

      I guess I just don’t understand why you can’t just compensate for the weight. Or is it something else entirely? And I don’t think packaging is a problem if someone would develop it.

      I’m just wondering why there isn’t a market for turkeys that you can literally take from the store to the table. Boston Market and Honeybaked Ham do heat and serve as well, so you still have to use your oven. I have a friend who lives in an older house, and her roasting pans wouldn’t fit in the oven! This would have saved her a lot of time spent measuring the oven, comparing pan sizes, only to find the handles added an extra two inches to the sides.

      • ihatephonecompanies says:

        You also gotta figure that turkeys are a much more seasonal item. On most days there’s no/very little demand for a fully cooked turkey, whereas on particular holidays there’s a huge spike. It wouldn’t make economic sense to have that kind of capacity sitting idle for 362 days a year.

    • Nogard13 says:

      Sorry to have posted as a seperate thread, but the reply buttons don’t always show up now that the interface has changed.

    • floraposte says:

      I think it’s capacity, as people note, but also that most people people want their turkey hot on the actual holiday. Since Publix isn’t open on the actual holiday, all people would really be getting is a big-ass bird they’d have to safely cool and then reheat–in other words, something more complicated for the same result Publix already provides.

    • ElizabethD says:

      Hi dear Ms. Pecan: You know I love you, but it does say in the post above:
      “We also have no way to heat the birds, our ovens are not built for that kind of capacity. “

      That probably answers the question right thar. :-)

      God, I just realized we had no pecan pie yesterday. Now I’ll have to make one.

    • coren says:

      The spit you’d need is HUGE, for starters. Which means there’d be less turkeys per heating device (nevermind all the extra a turkey v a chicken has to heat) which means more devices

      Given how seldom people want a whole turkey to eat, it’s not economical to have such a device, I suspect.

  3. Nogard13 says:

    @pecan 3.14159265 :

    I think the problem is capacity. The rotisserie chickens are much smaller than the turkey (not to mention the difference in weight). Maybe the spits that hold the chicken can’t support the weight? Also, most people don’t cook their turkeys on the rotisserie, they bake them in an oven. I can only imagine that the ovens at Publix aren’t big enough to accomodate all the pre-cooked turkeys that are ordered (and that people would want hot).

    • coren says:

      Yeah you’d need a huge spit. What are rotissere chickens, 2-4 pounds? multiply that by five then there’s a totally different cooking dynamic to go with the huge spit you’d need, etc. etc.

  4. Mr_Human says:

    It’s also important to note that fully cooked food that’s been frozen or unheated doesn’t necessarily mean safe to eat. That’s why frozen food package instructions are very insistent on heating them up first.

  5. spacemanspiff says:

    I was a deli manager for Publix for several years. I made sure that every employee told customers that the dinners came to them cold for reasons that the op explained. If they wanted to pick them up early, I would still inform them that it would come to them cold. There were several instances where people that I spent at least half an hour with explaining everything would then come in to pick up their turkey’s and complain that it was cold, even though I specifically told them this several times. The case from Tuesday probably stems from the lady not listening to what the original person told her. I saw this happen all of the time.
    It may be that she wasn’t told, since I had heard of that happening, but more often than not, it is just a case of people not listening. Happens with subs and chicken and deli meat orders all the time. Happens with deli tray orders all the time when you tell someone what comes on the tray and when they get it they say that it is wrong. However, Publix is pretty good at making sure that they get what the customer wants quickly after that. I haven’t worked for Publix for 2 years but still shop there and have seen other customers complaining about stuff that I know they were told about. The only problem I have with this site is that whoever writes in has their story taken for gospel truth when some of them seem to just be a customer complaining because they didn’t listen or did something stupid and it is obvious in their story.

    • ElizabethD says:

      “There were several instances where people that I spent at least half an hour with explaining everything would then come in to pick up their turkey’s and complain that it was cold, even though I specifically told them this several times.”

      Ugh, this makes me sad and a little disgusted. People really do not pay attention much anymore (too much brain-altering electronically delivered input?) or else they hear only what they want to hear.

      Maybe Publix and similar stores should have a special form to sign, in duplicate, in which the customer acknowledges and accepts that the turkey will be cold upon pickup! Then the store staff would have something to show them when the customers show up crying fowl. (har)

      • GymLeaderPhil says:

        Sadly no amount of signage, forms, verbal instructions, or visuals can eliminate those “special” consumers who check their brain in when they enter a place of business.

        Aside from potential health risks with providing heated turkeys, another reason why Publix offers this item cold is for those who are utilizing EBT/Food Stamps to purchase it. Fully cooked and chilled items are acceptable towards EBT Food purchases. Prepared hot foods are not.

        It’s an unfortunate situation, but my experience with Publix’s customer service and response is top notch. I’ve never had to escalate anything beyond the store level if there was an issue. Hopefully the original poster sought reconciliation!

  6. baquwards says:

    I have worked in many grocery stores and have never seen a rotisserie that would hold a 10-12 lb. bird. There are heating elements in the top that the bird would likely hit while turning.

    These could be heated in the regular bakery oven, but the days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas call for enormous amounts of bread, rolls, pies and such to be baked, I know that in my store, the ovens are full from open to close on the days leading up to a holiday and there is no room for turkeys to be heated. It is an already chaotic time for deli bakeries, and it is usually done WITHOUT extra staff being hired for the holidays.

  7. morganlh85 says:

    It’s funny, we had a post-Thanksgiving party last night, and we ordered a turkey breast from Honeybaked Ham…they said they had them at the store ready to go at all times, so we were going to go pick one up. Then I remembered this story and asked the guy “Are they ready to serve?” He replied that they are cold, and you can let them sit at room temperature or put it in the oven to heat it up if you want.