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Thanksgiving Toolkit to Prevent Foodborne Illness: Talking Points

Topline/Key Messages

  • Food poisoning is a serious public health threat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that foodborne illness results in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths in the United States annually.
  • This Thanksgiving, Americans will consume more than 40 million turkeys. With so many people preparing a meal they don’t cook very often, hosts must be especially careful not to serve up food poisoning to their families.

Four Steps to Food Safety

  • Clean: Clean hands, surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking. Wash hands for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. After cleaning surfaces raw poultry has touched, apply a sanitizer.
  • Separate: Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat or poultry and foods that are ready to eat.
  • Cook: Confirm foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature by using a food thermometer. Turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured in three places — the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing.
  • Chill: Chill foods promptly if not consuming immediately after cooking. Don’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours.
  • For more information and tips on preparing the Thanksgiving meal safely, consumers can visit FoodSafety.gov, search frequently asked Thanksgiving questions and their answers at AskUSDA.gov, or call the Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at 1-888-MPHotline (888-674-6854), open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day.

Preparing Your Turkey

  • Fresh turkey: The “fresh” label means the turkey has never been chilled below 26 degrees F. Fresh turkeys should not be purchased until one or two days before Thanksgiving, unless the manufacturer’s tag has a “Best by” or “Use by” date that indicates the turkey will be safe until Thanksgiving. If there is no manufacturer’s tag, then purchase a fresh turkey the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving at the earliest. If you bring home a fresh turkey before Tuesday, it should be frozen before cooking.
  • Frozen turkey: A “frozen” turkey is a turkey that has been cooled to 0 degrees F or lower. Most turkeys sold in the United States are frozen. When purchasing a frozen turkey make sure to leave enough time for it to defrost.
  • Thawing turkey: Thawing a turkey on the counter is unsafe. There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey – in the refrigerator, in cold water or in a microwave oven.
    • It will take 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.
    • To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing using this method.
    • For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to the owner’s manual for your microwave. Cook the turkey immediately after defrosting using this method.
  • USDA does not recommend stuffing a whole turkey because it increases the risk for cross-contamination and takes longer to cook. If you do choose to stuff your bird, do not stuff a turkey the night before cooking it. Harmful bacteria can multiply in the stuffing and cause food poisoning when a stuffed bird is refrigerated. If you choose to stuff your turkey, the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing should be prepared separately from each other and refrigerated the night before. Combine the ingredients and place them in the cavity of your bird immediately before you cook it.

Cooking Your Turkey

  • To cook a large turkey, use the timetables for turkey roasting for an unstuffed turkey, which can be found in Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking. Add 10 minutes per pound for turkeys over 24 pounds. FSIS does not recommend stuffing a turkey over 24 pounds.
  • FSIS recommends cooking turkey to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. This is the minimum temperature necessary to eliminate pathogens and viruses.
  • Your turkey is safe to eat when the temperature reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit in three places:
    • The thickest part of the breast.
    • The innermost part of the thigh.
    • The innermost part of the wing.
  • It is safe to cook a frozen turkey. The cooking time will take 50 percent longer or more than recommended for a fully thawed turkey.
    • If you cannot separate the giblet package from the turkey before cooking don’t worry, you may start the cooking process and remove it carefully with tongs or a fork a few hours into cooking.
  • After cooking meat and poultry, keep it hot at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, until served. The cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit, in a chafing dish, slow cooker or warming tray.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

  • Leftovers (including appetizers, side dishes and the turkey) should be stored within two hours of cooking. Dividing leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerating or freezing them in covered shallow containers helps cool leftovers more quickly than storing them in large containers.
  • Thanksgiving leftovers are safe in the refrigerator for up to four days. This means you have until the Monday after Thanksgiving to eat them, or you can place them in the freezer to enjoy later. If you store leftovers in the freezer, they will remain of best quality for up to two to six months.
    • Frozen food stays safe indefinitely, though the quality may decrease over time.
    • Reheat leftovers thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Multi-Year Observational Study Results

  • Recent USDA research conducted in test kitchens revealed some startling insights about how foodborne germs may be spread around the kitchen when individuals are preparing meat and poultry products.

Handwashing:

  • During all three years of the observational study, participants did not even attempt to wash their hands, or did not wash their hands sufficiently, about 95 percent of the time before and during meal preparation.
  • Proper handwashing this Thanksgiving will help keep you and your family healthy. There are five simple steps to properly wash your hands:
    1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
    2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
    3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
    4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
    5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

Food Thermometer Usage:

  • In the second study, 44 percent of participants used a food thermometer to check the doneness of at least one chicken thigh. In chicken thighs, the food thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone.
    • Other methods used by participants to check doneness included visual cues to determine if food “looked done,” cooking time, and touching the food. These methods cannot guarantee that your food reaches a safe internal temperature, so use a food thermometer to make sure your food is safe to eat.
  • You can’t see, smell or otherwise detect foodborne illness causing germs on meat and poultry, so you should always use a food thermometer to make sure you have destroyed any illness causing bacteria, such as Salmonella or Campylobacter.

Cross-Contamination:

  • USDA does not recommend washing or rinsing meat or poultry, including whole turkeys. In a recent study, 76 percent of participants did not attempt to clean the sink immediately after washing or rinsing poultry. Among those who did attempt to clean the sink, 96 percent were not successful at both cleaning and sanitizing the sink after washing or rinsing poultry.
    • Participants who washed or rinsed poultry contaminated the inner sink 60 percent of the time, and they contaminated the side salad they also prepared with their meal 26 percent of the time.
  • To help control cross-contamination, handle fruits, vegetables and other ready-to-eat (RTE) foods before handling raw meat, poultry or eggs, when possible. Use a separate cutting board to prepare raw meat or poultry and always wash your hands thoroughly after you handle raw meat, poultry or eggs. Do not wash meat or poultry.

 

Last Modified Nov 06, 2020