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Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on November 18, 2018

Preparing a thanksgiving meal is a huge task. It requires planning, skill, practice and most importantly, keeping in mind food safety. Every year we hear about people getting sick with food poisoning (outbreak or otherwise) after eating a Thanksgiving meal. So, naturally paying attention to food safety is important. With this in mind, here is a collection of our Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips:



A safe measure to purchase the amount of turkey is 1 pound per person. If you are buying a fresh turkey, keep it in the refrigerator until you cook it. Don’t buy a fresh turkey more than 1 to 2 days before.

If you are buying frozen turkey, keep it in the freezer. Most frozen turkeys can be kept for one year for best quality.


There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey:

Refrigerator Thawing: Place the turkey in a container to prevent juices from dripping. The time required is approximately 24 hours for 4-5 pounds of turkey at a temperature of 40℉. Turkey weighing more will require more time for thawing. You can refreeze the turkey after thawing in the refrigerator but it will lose some quality.

Weight of Turkey Thawing Time
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

Cold Water Thawing: Pack the turkey in a leak proof plastic bag and put it in a container full of cold water. Allow 30 minutes for every pound. So, if your turkey weighs 4 pounds, thaw it for 2 hours.

Weight of Turkey Thawing Time
4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

Microwave Thawing: This method should be done according to the specific instructions mentioned by the manufacturer. This is because sometimes the turkey might start cooking during microwaving if the conditions are not met.

Turkey thawed by the last two methods must be cooked immediately and refrozen only after cooking.


For properly roasting your turkey, set the temperature of the oven to 325℉. Time can vary depending upon the size of the turkey, stuffing and various other factors such as depth and size of the pan, use of foil tent etc. For reference, an unstuffed turkey weighing around 4-6 pounds will take around 1 ½ to 2 hours to cook at a temperature of 325℉.

Weight of Turkey (Unstuffed) Thawing Time
4 to 6 pounds 1 ½  to 2 ¼  hours
6 to 8 pounds 2 ¼ to 3 ¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours

The turkey is properly cooked when the innermost part of the thigh and the wing and the thickest part of the breast reaches 165℉. The center part of the stuffing should also reach the same temperature.

Your turkey should rest for at least 20 minutes after roasting. The resting time can extend to 40 minutes if your bird is big enough.


Poultry stuffing can be made from breadcrumbs, sausage meat, onion, celery, salt and other spices. It is not recommended to stuff a turkey before you are planning to cook it. Stuffing should also not be prepared ahead. Additionally, keep dry and wet ingredients separate and chilled.


Do not leave the turkey out at room temperature for more than two hours. Leaving it for more than that can cause harmful microbes to grow to a level that they become pathogenic to humans. Any leftovers should be kept in the refrigerator and eaten only after you cook the turkey to the same internal temperature.


In recent years, the trend of deep frying a turkey has increased. But deep frying is full of risks and hence, should be approached with proper safety.

  • Make sure that the turkey is properly thawed and dry. Any water in the turkey can cause the oil to bubble and catch fire.
  • Find an open space to set up your fryer. It should be around 10 feet away from your home.
  • Don’t fill the fryer with too much oil and it increases the chances of spillage.
  • Wear safety gear while frying the turkey as some oil might splatter and cause burns on your hands.
  • Monitor the temperature and have a fire-extinguisher ready at all times.


With the popularity of Thanksgiving reaching across the world, we are looking to indulge in more and more fancy meat options to savor on the holiday. These meats are expensive but tender and delicious.

Roasting is the recommended method to cook these meats as cooking them as they can lose their tenderness in the process. To roast the meat, set the oven at 325℉ till the internal temperature reaches to a safe point.

Ground Poultry 165℉ 3 minutes
Ground beef, veal, pork,

lamb or venison

160℉ 3 minutes
Fresh beef, veal, pork,

lamb or venison

145℉ 3 minutes
Ham 140℉
Wild Game Birds 165℉


Why is resting time important?

Resting time for meat and poultry is important for two reasons. First, the temperature of the meat stays the same or continues to rise during resting which destroys harmful germs. Second, roasting can cause moisture from the meat to move towards the surface. During resting, this moisture redistributes. When you cut it immediately, the meat will become dry. But if you wait, it will be tender and juicy just like you want it.


Turducken is another Thanksgiving delight. It is one huge mega turkey that has deboned chicken, stuffed into deboned duck that is further stuffed into deboned turkey. There is just so much meat and poultry that it needs proper safety precautions to make the meal a safe one.

  • Turducken should not be cooked well in advance. Because the bacteria can spread easily through the layers via stuffing or otherwise.
  • If you are buying raw birds, refrigerate them immediately. Don’t buy them 2 days before you plan to cook them. Keep them safely secured in the refrigerator so there is no leakage of juices.
  • You can also buy frozen turducken and keep it in the freezer.
  • Cook the turducken after safely thawing it using the above three methods to an internal temperature of 165℉. If you are stuffing it, then leave spaces between layers to ensure proper heat transfer and even cooking.
  • If there are any leftovers, they should go into the refrigerator within 2 hours of being left outside at room temperature.


These are some other delicious treats that are made on Thanksgiving. To practice good food safety while cooking these, make sure that the vegetables and fruits are properly washed. If any of the produce is bruised, throw them. Do not store produce with raw meat at any cost. This can lead to cross-contamination. Also, make sure that you wash any utensils in which you prepare turkey or any other meat properly before using them for these dishes.


What is a meal without a dessert? Thanksgiving meals are famous for serving pies in the end especially pumpkin pie. All pies are made from milk and raw eggs. They should be safely baked at an internal temperature of 160℉. Home made pies should be refrigerated if you are not planning to eat them immediately.

If you are wondering why store-bought pies don’t need to be refrigerated, it is because they have added preservatives that make them shelf stable. To eat the pie, take it out from the refrigerator, microwave it for around 10-30 seconds and serve immediately.

If you have any further question, you can call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at toll free number 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The hotline will be open from Monday to Friday from 10 AM – 4 PM. Recorded food safety messages are available for 24 hours a day. Last year, USDA also opened a Thanksgiving helpline for any last minute food safety questions. No such announcement has been made on that front yet.

By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)