FOOD & HEALTH — Thanksgiving Food Safety


By Cindy Brison, MS, RDN, Extension Educator, Douglas-Sarpy Counties

Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather and enjoy each other — not suffer from food poisoning! Here are a few tips to keep your family healthy:

• The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator. It takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey, not including the day you cook it. Therefore, a 20–24 pound turkey would take 6 days to thaw.

• Do not stuff your turkey. Place stuffing in a separate bowl to cook.

• USDA recommends an oven temperature no lower than 325°F for cooking a turkey along with using a thermometer to make sure the thickest part of the turkey reads 165°F. A 20–24 pound turkey may take about 5 hours to cook.

• Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, plates and utensils when handling raw turkey. Wash items that have touched raw meat with warm soap and water, or place them in a dishwasher.

• Refrigerate leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria from growing on the food. Eat leftovers in the refrigerator within 3–4 days. Use the freezer to store leftovers for longer periods.

• Do not over-fill your refrigerator as it causes it to work too hard and may not keep it at 40°F or below.

• Frequently wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.

• Use a calibrated food thermometer.

• Clean out your refrigerator the week before Thanksgiving to make room for thawing items and storing leftovers.

• Store leftovers in shallow containers to decrease cooling time. This prevents food from spending too much time at unsafe temperatures.

• Do not prepare food when you are ill.

• Simplify the day by preparing foods the day before.

• Keep leftovers in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs if the food is traveling home with a guest who lives more than two hours away.

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This article has been peer-reviewed.

Nebraska Extension has compiled numerous resources on Thanksgiving food preparation and food safety tips at