Keeping Thanksgiving happy

TurkeyCarving_blogEvery household has their own Thanksgiving traditions, but when it comes to the meal, the turkey is oftentimes the center of attention. While there are several ways to prepare your holiday bird, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has food safety recommendations on how to properly prepare a turkey to make sure yours is both delicious and safe to serve.

In a recent article, Maria Malagon, Director of Food Safety Education with USDA-FSIS, said unsafe handling and undercooking of your turkey can lead to serious foodborne illness as they may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, harmful pathogens that are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking a turkey.

That being said, the article mentions the following steps to help you and your guests avoid foodborne illness:

  • Read labels carefully. Temperature labels show if the bird is fresh or frozen. If you plan to serve a fresh turkey, purchase it no more than two days before Thanksgiving.
  • Purchase two thermometers: a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the turkey is stored at 40°F or slightly below and a food thermometer to make sure the cooked turkey reaches a safe 165°F.
  • Thaw the turkey by using the microwave, the cold water method, or the refrigerator. The refrigerator method is USDA recommended.

Steps to follow when cooking a turkey:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before touching any food to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness.
  • Do not wash the turkey. This only spreads pathogens onto kitchen surfaces. The only way to kill bacteria that causes foodborne illness is to fully cook the turkey.
  • Keep raw turkey separated from all other foods at all times.
  • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils when handling raw turkey to avoid cross-contamination. Wash items that have touched raw meat with warm soap and water, or place them in a dishwasher.
  • Cook the turkey until it reaches 165°F, as measured by a food thermometer. Check the turkey’s temperature by inserting the thermometer in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.

Steps to follow for leftover turkey:

  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria from growing on the food.
  • Store leftovers in shallow pans or containers to decrease cooling time. This prevents the food from spending too much time at unsafe temperatures (between 40°F to 140°F). Turkey for example, should also be cut into small pieces so it cools efficiently as well.
  • Do not store stuffing inside a leftover turkey. Remove the stuffing from the turkey, and refrigerate the stuffing and the meat separately to avoid potentially spreading Salmonella.
  • Perishable food should be stored in either the refrigerator or freezer. Refrigerated turkey is safe for up to four days, frozen turkey will taste the best if eaten within six months.

For more information, click here.

For additional questions, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline can also be reached at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). Consumers can also chat live with a food safety specialist at


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