The Rules of Thanksgiving Food Safety

Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season where friends, family, and loved ones gather to have a fantastic meal. It’s not the time to skimp on those food safety habits that can make or break the festivities. Here are some simple reminders.
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Photo by: Tara Donne ©2009

Tara Donne, 2009

Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season where friends, family, and loved ones gather to have one fantastic meal after another. It’s not the time to skimp on those food safety habits that can make or break the festivities. Here are some simple reminders.

Purchasing the Goodies

At the market, be sure you check the quality of all the products you buy. Look at the color, firmness, and texture of the produce and meats and don’t forget to check the expiration dates on packaged foods. Once you pay for your groceries, be sure to get them stored in the proper place immediately—refrigerator, freezer or pantry. A few extra stops on the way home is plenty of time for bacteria to have a party on your food.

Make room for your turkey—overcrowding your freezer or fridge can actually raise temperatures dangerously high and spoil your food and ruin your equipment.

Defrosting

Did you buy a frozen bird? Don’t leave it at room temperature to defrost; that’s another opportunity for bacteria to grow. Plan to take defrost the turkey in the fridge a few days before you cook it. Here are tips on how to do so safely.

Prepping

Here are the top three things to remember when prepping your delicious feast:

  1. Proper hand washing: Wash your hands properly and often by following these steps.
  2. Controlling time and temperature: The longer food sits out at room temperature, the more likely food bugs can multiply. Keep food in the 'fridge or freezer until you need to use it.
  3. Prevent cross-contamination: Raw turkey and fresh produce don’t mix—you want to keep these foods on separate surfaces and prep them using different equipment. Here are guidelines on how to do so.
Cooking

First you need to decide if you’re going to stuff the bird— a stuffed turkey can potentially be more dangerous so read this to help you decide.

Then you need to be sure to cook the bird for the right amount of time. This will help eliminate a majority of those pesky bacteria. For a defrosted turkey, plan on cooking it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes per pound. Fresh turkey’s cooking time is 10 to 15 minutes per pound. Check the temperature of the bird in two locations to ensure that it has been thoroughly cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t have a food thermometer? Read up on the types before you invest.

Handling Leftovers

There’s nothing more delicious than Turkey Day leftovers. So make sure to cool and store everything properly using these simple tips.

Aren’t hosting?

You still need to handle the food safely if you’re bringing goodies to another shindig. Here are ideas for foods that are easy to tote and tips for keeping the food safe.

TELL US: What steps do you take to keep your food safe?

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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