What to Know About Thanksgiving Dinner Food Safety

Thanksgiving is not the time to skimp on those food safety habits that can make or break the festivities.

November 18, 2022

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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 a fantastic meal. It’s not the time to skimp on those food safety habits practices that can make or break the festivities. Here are some simple reminders.

What to Know About Buying Thanksgiving Groceries

At the grocery store, 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 use by dates and expiration dates on packaged foods. Purchase the refrigerated and frozen food last so they stay as cold as possible. Once you pay for your groceries, drive right home as a few extra stops on the way home is plenty of time for bacteria to have a party on your food. If you live a distance from the store, you may want to bring a cooler to keep your groceries cold.

Once you get home, be sure to get them stored in the proper place immediately — refrigerator, freezer or pantry.

Make room for your turkey — overcrowding your freezer or fridge can actually raise temperatures dangerously high and spoil your food and ruin your equipment (not to mention, run up your electric bill!).

How to Defrost a Turkey

Did you buy a frozen bird? Don’t leave it at room temperature to defrost; that’s another opportunity for bacteria to grow and those juices can get all over the counters. Plan to defrost the turkey in the fridge a few days before you cook it.

How to Prep for Cooking

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

  • Wash your hands: Wash your hands properly and often by following these steps.
  • Control time and temperature: The longer food sits out at room temperature, the more likely bacteriafood bugs can multiply. Keep food in the 'fridge or freezer until you need to use it. Once you’re done eating, store the food back in the refrigerator as quickly as possible.
  • 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.

How to Cook a Turkey

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 with a meat thermometer of the bird in two locations to ensure that it has been thoroughly cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Handle Leftovers

There’s nothing more delicious than Turkey Day leftovers. So make sure to cool and store everything properly and within two hours of getting it on the table. You'll want to eat leftovers for no more than five days after Turkey Day.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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