Food safety 101: Thanksgiving edition

TurkeyCarving_blogLadies and gentlemen, let’s talk turkey.

And stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce – no matter what your favorite Thanksgiving treat, they all have one thing in common: the need for food safety. Pulling together such a giant meal takes a ton of work. However, keeping food safety in mind can prevent all of that effort from paying off in illness rather than in compliments.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help avoid any feast-ruining foodborne illness.

  • Need to thaw a turkey? Avoid doing so on a counter or in hot water (or in any temperatures between 40-140°F – this is considered the danger zone for bacteria to grow). Do thaw frozen turkeys in the fridge, remembering that it takes about 24 hours per 5 lbs. of turkey. There also are other methods – check them out at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website.
  • This one is simple – don’t wash the turkey. The spray from the water can actually fling bacteria up to three feet onto surrounding surfaces or food items (this is especially problematic if those food items are ready to eat). Besides, it’s pretty impossible to rinse all of the bacteria off of the turkey, USDA notes. Instead, make sure surfaces the turkey or its juices touch are thoroughly cleaned as well as your hands after touching the bird. Ensuring the turkey is properly cooked will destroy the bacteria. Which brings us to…
  • Properly cooking the bird means the internal temperature hits 165°F. That means using a meat thermometer to check the temperature (the thermometer should be placed on the inner part of the wing and thigh, and the thickest part of the breast, according to USDA). Color alone isn’t a good indicator that the bird is cooked to a safe temperature. Likewise, stuffing in the turkey also should be brought to an internal temperature of 165°F. (Check out these tips for proper turkey prep across a range of cooking methods.)
  • Avoid cross-contamination (e.g., using the same utensils, cutting boards, etc. for raw meat as is used for other items, especially items that won’t be cooked). Ensure these items are properly washed before changing up food items.
  • Food should not be left out for more than two hours (one hour for temperatures higher than 90°F).
  • Clean kitchen work surfaces thoroughly, especially if exposed to raw meat and egg.
  • We know it’s tempting, but avoid licking the spoon. The batter or dough may be yummy but if it contains egg it may also harbor pathogens such as Salmonella. (For food safety tips on baking and pies, click here.)
  • One of the best parts of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Be sure to finish them up in three to four days, if not freezing them.

For more food safety tips, visit

For tips on how to keep pets safe during the Thanksgiving feast, click here.

From all of us at Neogen, have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!

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