Butterball warns of a turkey shortage

If you're planning on serving your family a fresh turkey this Thanksgiving, you may be hard pressed to find one available at your local supermarket.

Less than two weeks before the year's greatest food holiday, Butterball, the nation's largest producer of turkeys, is warning of a shortage of birds.

Butterball announced that it will be shipping out half as many large, fresh never-frozen turkeys to retailers this year. The company says many of its birds had trouble gaining weight during the production process.  And though the cause of the problem remains a mystery, food distributors say their orders for turkeys 16 pounds and bigger have been slashed in half. Sixteen pounds is the national average for Thanksgiving holiday turkeys making this shortage a particularly concerning problem.

Butterball released the following statement Thursday:

“Butterball and its retail partners have ample supply of frozen whole turkeys of all sizes – small, medium or large. While there may be limited availability on some larger sizes of fresh turkeys, Butterball has shipped 100 percent of customer orders of frozen whole turkeys and products are in distribution across the country. We experienced a decline in weight gains on some of our farms causing a limited availability of large, fresh turkeys. While we are continuing to evaluate all potential causes, we are working to remedy the issue. We sincerely regret the inconvenience that some of our customers have experienced as a result of this issue.

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Think that this is just a few turkeys?  Think again. Butterball produces approximately 41 million turkeys each year, accounting  for 16 percent of the entire U.S. market. On Thanksgiving,  nearly 1 out of every 4 turkeys consumed is a Butterball bird.

But don't panic--yet. Smaller birds and frozen Butterballs have not been affected by the bird's lack of weight gain, and other brands like Cargill or Farbest Foods have not reported any production problem, so turkey lovers can rest assured their holiday will go on.

But if you see a fresh Butterball in the supermarket, grab it.  You may have to wind up throwing it in the freezer anyway so it will keep. If you do that, just make sure you give yourself enough time to thaw it out.  Depending on the size of their turkey, it typically takes between three to five days to thaw.  Butterball suggests that thawing in a refrigerator is best.  The rule of thumb is four hours per every pound of turkey.

Butterball expects production of its large turkeys to be back to normal by the Christmas holiday.