Keep Your Thanksgiving Safe with These Food Safety Tips

thanksgiving turkey dinner© AlexRaths / Getty Images Pro / Canva

Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and of course – food! But before you sit down to celebrate, make sure you’re following these food safety tips to avoid any unwanted guests at your dinner table. From keeping your leftovers safe to thawing your turkey correctly, we’ve got you covered. So relax and enjoy Thanksgiving – knowing that you’re taking all the necessary precautions to have a safe and healthy holiday!

7 Food Safety Tips for Your Holiday Feast

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released its annual food safety tips for the Thanksgiving holiday. With families and friends gathering together, it’s important to be extra vigilant about food safety to avoid any sickness or foodborne illness.

Here are seven tips from the USDA to help you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday:

1. Handwashing is the first step to avoiding foodborne illness. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any food. This includes raw poultry, turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cooked leftovers.

2. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for raw poultry and turkey. Do not wash raw poultry; doing so can actually spread bacteria around your kitchen. Any areas that come into contact with raw meat should be cleaned and sanitized with a solution of one tablespoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water. This includes countertops, cutting boards, knives, and other utensils.

3. Never thaw your turkey in hot water or leave it on a countertop; both of these methods can lead to bacteria growth. The best way to thaw your turkey is in the refrigerator, allowing approximately 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird. If you’re pressed for time, you can also thaw your turkey in a cold water bath; just be sure to change the water every 30 minutes and cook the turkey immediately after it has thawed.

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4. Your turkey is safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F throughout—so use a food thermometer! To check the temperature of your bird without having to unstuff it, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh meat but not touching bone; for stuffed turkeys, insert the thermometer into several different areas including the breast meat and stuffing.

5. USDA recommends against stuffing your turkey since this often leads to bacteria growth; if you do stuff your bird, stuff it loosely just before cooking and remove any leftover stuffing from the cavity after cooking. If you’re cooking a stuffed turkey, check both the temperature of the turkey itself as well as the stuffing; the stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165 F as well.

6. Don’t leave your food sitting out too long; bacteria can begin to grow on food within two hours if it’s kept at temperatures above 40 F or below 140 F—and that temperature range covers most Thanksgiving side dishes! So if you’re not serving something right away or if there’s going to be a significant delay between courses, keep it hot on the stovetop or in a slow cooker set on low or covered chafing dishes filled with hot water placed throughout your dining area.

7. Store leftovers in small shallow containers—they’ll cool down faster that way—and put them in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking (one hour if it’s over 90 F outside). When reheating leftovers, make sure they reach an internal temperature of 165 F throughout before eating them; this will help kill any remaining bacteria that might cause illness. These leftovers will last three to four days in the fridge or four months in the freezer—so enjoy them all week long!

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Following these simple tips from the USDA will help you avoid any foodborne illnesses during your holiday feast this year! By taking a few extra precautions with food safety, you can relax and enjoy time with family and friends without having to worry about anything else.

Got a cooking question for Thanksgiving? Then you may want to contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. The Hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, and on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST. You can reach them by calling 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), emailing or chatting live at Trained food specialists are available to answer your questions in English or Spanish, and interpretation service for other languages is also available by calling 1-866-374-7901. So if you have any last-minute turkey day questions, don’t hesitate to give them a call!

From all of us here at, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!

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This article is intended for informational, entertainment or educational purposes only and should not be construed as advice, guidance or counsel. It is provided without warranty of any kind.