Let’s Talk Turkey: Tips for a Safe Thanksgiving and Leftovers
By Felicia Thompson, OPACE
Thanksgiving is tomorrow! Before your special gathering of family and friends, be sure to familiarize yourself with FSIS’ food safety recommendations and tips to help keep everyone food safe. Some are provided below and follow the easy-to-remember steps: Clean, Cook, Separate and Chill.
Buying, Storing and Thawing Your Bird
FSIS recommends consumers buy frozen turkeys and keep them frozen in 0 °F until it’s time to start thawing. When thawing the bird, be sure to use one of the three methods FSIS recommends:
- In a container in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight. Cook within 1 to 2 days.
- In a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water, change the water every 30 minutes. Once thawed, cook immediately.
- In the microwave, follow the microwave manufacturer’s instructions. Once thawed, cook immediately.
Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A turkey must defrost at a safe temperature to prevent foodborne illness. Be sure to keep the turkey out of the “danger zone,” which can occur when the bird is left out at room temperature for more than two hours. The danger zone makes the turkey unsafe to eat because harmful bacteria can grow rapidly between 40 °F and 140 °F. Also, raw poultry can contaminate with bacteria anything it touches.
Once thawed, cook the main course at no lower than 325 °F until the minimum internal temperature reaches 165 °F in three places:
- The thickest part of the breast.
- The innermost part of the thigh.
- The innermost part of the wing.
Keeping Things Clean
Cleanliness is essential to staying safe. Wash hands often with clean, running water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Also, wash utensils and surfaces with soap and water before cooking. Surfaces should be sanitized with a bleach-based solution.
Two Boards Are Better Than One
Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat and poultry and other foods that are ready to eat. A red cutting board can be used for raw meat and poultry and a green one can be used for items that do not require cooking.
Special Care for Leftovers
Food can enter the danger zone and become unsafe after 2 hours of sitting out, because bacteria can start to multiply quickly. Store foods—within that time in shallow containers in the refrigerator, freezer or on clean ice in coolers to ensure your leftovers and “leftafters” (what’s left after the leftovers) will be safe to eat the day after Thanksgiving. Discard perishable foods that have been out past this time. Be sure to freeze or consume any remaining Thanksgiving foods within 4 days. Use the Monday after Thanksgiving as a reminder that it is the last day that you can safely eat leftovers. Leftovers are safe to keep indefinitely if frozen, but the quality may decrease over time (best quality if eaten within 6 months).
When eating leftovers or leftafters, be sure to reheat them to at least 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Sauces, soups and gravies can safely be consumed after they come to a rolling boil. When reheating food in the microwave, use a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish, add liquid to the container, if needed, and rotate the food for even heating. Because microwaves have cold spots, check the internal temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer after allowing a resting time.
Find out More
For more questions about food safety, contact USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email MPHotline@usda.gov to reach a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow.
Get more Thanksgiving food safety tips at FoodSafety.gov or follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or Facebook. Also check FSIS blog posts Let’s Talk Turkey: Tips for a Safe Thanksgiving and Leftovers: Let’s Keep the Best Part of Thanksgiving Safe.