Thanksgiving food safety

November 20, 2012

If you are not careful, a happy Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends can quickly end up turning into an unhappy time especially if you come down with food poisoning.

Food safety expert, Nancy Donley with STOP Foodborne Illness, talks a little turkey and shares some reminders about the best ways to keep food safe this Thanksgiving. From thawing the turkey to eating the next day's leftovers, these preventative steps will keep everyone happy and well after the meal.

Safe holiday cooking begins at the grocery store. Look for Poultry and Meats raised without routine use of antibiotics
Use the plastic bags grocers provide in the frozen food section to put the turkey or meat in and then place it on the bottom shelve of the cart to keep it from contaminating other items in the cart
Do NOT thaw a turkey on the counter. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator (preferred & best method), keeping it in its original wrapper and placing it on a platter to catch any drippings. Allow one day per each 4 to 5 lbs. Or, thaw the bird in cold water that's changed every 30 minutes (allow ½ hr. per pound).

Wash hands before/during after food preparation of each item – sing "Happy Birthday" twice for the correct amount of time to wash!
Wash food prep surfaces, cutting boards and utensils with soapy hot water between uses. Counter's and sinks can also be cleaned/disinfected with a light ammonia solution, such as using Windex
Don't use the same spoon/fork/etc. for tasting and preparation
Keep Raw and cooked foods separate

Do not partially cook food the night before
Do not rely on the turkey's pop-up thermometer. It's essential to use a meat thermometer to ensure the thickest part of the turkey has reached an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Every kitchen should have one for everyday use too.
For several food safe reasons, cook stuffing separately from the turkey
Use pasteurized eggs

Keep Hot foods hot and cold foods cold
Put small amounts on serving platters and replenish often when serving the food

Refrigerate food within two hours of serving
Yes, you SHOULD put hot & warm foods in the refrigerator. Just store the food in several shallow containers to help it cool quicker to a safe temperature for storage
Allow for air circulation in your fridge to help the cooking process
Cut turkey into smaller pieces so it can also cool more quickly

Eat foods within three days of refrigeration
Label & Date all leftovers
Keep food in the freezer to store for a longer period of time.
Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees and boil any sauces such as gravy


STOP is a national non-profit, public health organization – headquartered in Chicago – dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens by advocating for sound public policy, building awareness and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness.

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