Are you preordering your Thanksgiving feast, or making it all from scratch? Either way, when you follow these simple food safety practices, you can avoid the likelihood of foodborne germs and illness, and more importantly, help ensure an enjoyable holiday with your family.
Tips for Handling Turkey
The main event of any Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey and it’s important that you know best safety practices for thawing, preparing, stuffing, cooking, and serving your holiday bird. Here are the tips and advice to follow:
- Flash-frozen turkeys are a great choice as they're often much fresher than “fresh” turkeys.
- It is best to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator within its original packaging. During thaw, the safe temperature for your turkey must stay below 45°F.
- Store and cover your raw turkey in a leak-proof container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator away from foods that are ready to eat, such as desserts and salads, to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.
- Be sure the turkey has completely thawed. This requires plenty of planning ahead, because you should never try to thaw a turkey outside of a refrigerator. So, depending on how many pounds your turkey weighs, it can take as much as a week to fully thaw.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap.
- Clean and sanitize your sink and counters.
- After rinsing your raw turkey thoroughly, properly clean and sanitize the sink and surrounding area before starting to prepare any other food. Wash your hands again thoroughly.
- Set your oven’s temperature at no lower than 325°F.
- Place turkey in a shallow roasting pan breast-side up on a flat wire rack.
- When cooking your turkey, check that it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F by inserting a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and thigh without touching the bone for accurate readings.
- Note: Most recipes sites recommend that you cook the stuffing outside the bird for both safety reasons and to ensure the turkey is thoroughly cooked.
Handling Other Cooked Food
Whether you’re picking up a pre-ordered dinner or refrigerating side dishes while putting the finishing touches on your home-cooked feast, simply keeping food warm is not enough. Harmful bacteria multiply fastest between 40° and 140°F, so keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
Prepare salads, cranberries, and other colds items first and store them in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Then prep your hot dishes closer to serving time, and if needed keep them in an oven at 140°F or above so they stay hot.
Leave Room for Leftovers
Leftovers are part of the holiday tradition. Store each dish separately in clean, sealable, leak-proof containers and reheat to 165°F when you're ready to enjoy round two of your Thanksgiving meal.
Last tip: Many families like to sit and enjoy each other's company after finishing the big feast, but remember that the USDA recommends that a cooked turkey sit out no longer than two hours at room temperature. If you live in a warmer climate, however, the organization says in temperatures higher than 90°F, get that turkey into the fridge within an hour. It can be hard to get moving after a big meal, but the rest of the turkey will not be safe to eat as a leftover if these recommendations are not followed.