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WASHINGTON, November 7, 2022 – Keep your stomach full of turkey and free from foodborne illness this Thanksgiving holiday. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds us all that it’s important to remember the steps to food safety during America’s biggest meal.
“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. “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. Make sure to follow these handwashing steps:
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. Our recent study found that sinks are the most contaminated areas of the kitchen. USDA recommends against washing your raw poultry due to the risk of splashing bacteria throughout your kitchen. Clean and sanitize any areas that will come into contact with the turkey before and after cooking.
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.
It’s safe to cook a completely frozen turkey; however, it will take at least 50 percent longer to fully cook.
Cook Thoroughly
Your turkey is safe to eat once 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. 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:
For more information on turkey stuffing, visit Turkey Basics: Stuffing.
The Two-Hour Rule
Don’t leave your food sitting out too long! 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. Discard all foods that have been left out for more than two hours. Remember the rule — keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
When serving food to groups, keep hot food hot and keep cold food cold by using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 F and cold items should remain below 40 F.
Leftovers
Store leftovers in small shallow containers and put them in the refrigerator. 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.
Resources
For Thanksgiving food safety questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email MPHotline@usda.gov or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.
Do you have any last-minute turkey day questions? The Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST.
Check out the USDA FoodKeeper App, which helps to reduce food waste by providing food and beverage storage information. Access news releases and other information at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) website at www.fsis.usda.gov/newsroom. Follow FSIS on Twitter at twitter.com/usdafoodsafety or in Spanish at: twitter.com/usdafoodsafe_es.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production; fairer markets for all producers; ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities; building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices; making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America; and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.
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