WMTR’s Holiday Guide

As we start counting down the days until Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reminding all of us how important it is to remember the steps to food safety.

If you’re hosting or even just offering to cook up a dish or two this year, you’ll want to read up on how to make sure to keep your stomach full of turkey and free from foodborne on November 24.

“While the four steps to food safety — clean, separate, cook and chill — are important every day and at every meal, they are particularly significant on Thanksgiving,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary Sandra Eskin in a press release. “There will likely be many guests and many delicious dishes at your holiday table, but you don’t want to invite any foodborne pathogens. Follow those four steps — in particular remember to use a food thermometer — and your Thanksgiving dinner will be a safe one.”

Keep your Thanksgiving celebration food safe by following the tips below.

  • Clean and Sanitize

    Handwashing is the first step to avoiding foodborne illness. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after handling food. In a recent study, 97 percent of participants in a USDA test kitchen failed to wash their hands properly.

    Clean and sanitize any surfaces that have touched raw turkey and its juices and will later touch food such as kitchen counters, sinks, stoves, tabletops, etc.

  • Avoid Cross-Contamination

    Cross-contamination is the spread of bacteria from raw meat and poultry onto ready-to-eat food, surfaces, and utensils. One way to avoid this is by using separate cutting boards — one for raw meat and poultry, and another for fruits and vegetables.

  • Thaw the Turkey Safely

    Never thaw your turkey in hot water or leave it on a countertop. There are three ways to safely thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave.

  • Cook Thoroughly

    Your turkey is safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. USDA recommends using a food thermometer even if the turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator to ensure it has reached 165 F in the three previously stated places.

  • Stuffing your Turkey

    USDA recommends against stuffing your turkey since this often leads to bacteria growth. However, if you plan to stuff your turkey, follow these steps:

    • Prepare the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately from each other and refrigerate until ready to use. Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the bird’s cavity.
    • Do not stuff whole poultry and leave in the refrigerator before cooking.
    • Stuff the turkey loosely — about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.
    • Immediately place the stuffed, raw turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 F.
    • A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook. Once it has finished cooking, place a food thermometer in the center of the stuffing to ensure it has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 F.
    • Let the cooked turkey stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing.
  • The Two-Hour Rule

    Refrigerate all perishable foods sitting out at room temperature within two hours of being cooked, or one hour if the temperature is 90 F or above. After two hours, perishable food will enter the “Danger Zone” (between 40 F and 140 F), which is where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the food to become unsafe.

  • Leftovers

    Thanksgiving leftovers are safe to eat up to four days in the refrigerator. In the freezer, leftovers are safely frozen indefinitely but will keep best quality from two to six months.

  • Important: