Stay food safe this Thanksgiving


Keep your Thanksgiving food safe by following the tips below

Your turkey is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. (Photo credit: USDA FSIS)

WASHINGTON — Keep your stomach full of turkey and avoid foodborne illness this Thanksgiving. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reminding us all that it’s important to remember food safety steps during America’s biggest meal.

“While the four steps to food safety — clean, divide, cook and cool — are important every day and at every meal, they are especially important at Thanksgiving,” said USDA Deputy Assistant Secretary Sandra Eskin. “Your holiday table will probably have a lot of guests and a lot of delicious food, but you don’t want to invite foodborne pathogens. Follow these four steps – especially remember to use a food thermometer – and your Thanksgiving dinner will be safe.”

Keep your Thanksgiving food safe by following the tips below.

Clean and disinfect

Washing your hands is the first step to avoiding foodborne illness. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap before, during, and after handling food. In the recent research97 percent of USDA test kitchen participants failed to properly wash their hands. Be sure to follow these steps to wash your hands:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water.
  • Lather your fingers with soap.
  • Clean soaped hands and fingers thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them.

Clean and disinfect any surfaces that have come in contact with the raw turkey and its juices and will later touch food, such as kitchen counters, sinks, stoves, countertops, etc.

Avoid cross contamination

Cross-contamination is the spread of bacteria from raw meat and poultry to ready-to-eat food, surfaces and utensils. One way to avoid this is to use separate cutting boards – one for raw meat and poultry and another for fruit and vegetables. Our recent research found that sinks are the dirtiest places in the kitchen. The USDA recommends against washing raw poultry due to the risk of spreading bacteria throughout the kitchen. Clean and disinfect all areas that will come into contact with the turkey before and after cooking.

Defrost turkey safely

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

  • Thawing in the refrigerator: The turkey can be safely thawed in the refrigerator to ensure a slow and safe thaw. When defrosting in the refrigerator, allow about 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey. After thawing, the turkey will keep in the refrigerator for one to two days.
  • Cold Water Thawing: The cold water thawing method will defrost your turkey faster, but will require more attention. When thawing in a cold water bath, wait 30 minutes per pound and place the turkey in its original package to avoid cross-contamination. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. It is necessary to cook the turkey immediately after defrosting.
  • Defrosting in the microwave: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for defrosting a microwaveable turkey. Cook food immediately after defrosting because some parts of the food may heat up and start cooking during the defrosting process, bringing the food to “Danger zone.”

It is safe to cook a completely frozen turkey; however, it will take at least 50 percent longer to fully cook.

Cook carefully

Your turkey is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. Insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh to check its internal temperature. The USDA recommends using a food thermometer, even if the turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, to make sure it has reached 165 F in the three places mentioned above.

Stuff your turkey

The USDA recommends against stuffing a turkey, as this often leads to bacterial growth. However, if you plan to stuff the turkey, follow these steps:

  • Prepare the wet and dry ingredients for the filling separately and refrigerate until ready to use. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together just before stuffing the cavity of the bird.
  • Do not stuff the bird completely and refrigerate before cooking.
  • Stuff the turkey loosely – about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound.
  • Immediately place the stuffed raw turkey in an oven preheated to no lower than 325 F.
  • The stuffed turkey will take longer to cook. After it’s finished cooking, insert a food thermometer into the center of the filling to make sure it’s reached a safe internal temperature of 165 F.
  • Let the cooked turkey sit for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing.

For more information on turkey stuffing, visit Turkey Basics: Stuffing.

The two-hour rule

Don’t leave food out for too long! Refrigerate all perishable foods at room temperature within two hours of cooking, or one hour if the temperature is 90 F or higher. In two hours, perishable products will arrive in thedanger zone” (between 40 F and 140 F) where bacteria can multiply rapidly and make food unsafe. Discard all foods that have been left out for more than two hours. Remember the rule – keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

  • Transporting Hot Food – Wrap dishes in insulated containers to keep them above 140F.
  • Transporting Cold Foods – Refrigerate foods with ice or gel packs to keep them at or below 40F.

When serving food to groups, keep hot food and cold food chilled by using chafing dishes, pans and ice trays. Hot items should be above 140F and cold items should be below 40F.

Leftover food

Store leftovers in small, shallow containers and refrigerate. Thanksgiving leftovers can be safely eaten for up to four days in the refrigerator. In the freezer, leftovers are safely frozen indefinitely, but retain their best quality for two to six months.


For Thanksgiving food safety questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email or chat live on 10 am to 6 pm EST, Monday through Friday.

Do you have any last minute turkey day questions? The Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open Thanksgiving Day from 8am to 2pm EST.

Check it out The USDA FoodKeeper app, which helps reduce food waste by providing information on food and beverage storage. Access news releases and other information on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) website at Follow FSIS on Twitter at or in Spanish at:

The USDA touches the lives of all Americans in many positive ways every day. Under the Biden-Harris administration, the USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more sustainable local and regional food production; fairer markets for all producers; ensuring access to safe, healthy and wholesome food in all communities; creating new markets and sources of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry; making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy opportunities in rural America; and pursuing equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce that is more representative of America. To learn more, visit

– USDA Stay food safe this Thanksgiving

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