Mitzi Dulan – America's Nutrition Expert
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Food Safety for Thanksgiving
by Mitzi Dulan, RD, America’s Nutrition Expert®
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When we think of Thanksgiving the first things that come to mind are family, fall, and lots (and lots!) of holiday-specific foods. While we may want to get down to the business of cooking the meal and eating the delicious spread, food safety is paramount, especially during the time of year that flu season is already in full swing. Here are some tips to keep in mind that will keep food safety at the top of your menu:

Choose Your Portions

The USDA recommends about 1 pound of whole turkey for every person and 1 ¼ pound of pre-stuffed turkey for every person.

Thaw Well

If you decide to go for a fresh turkey, you should plan to purchase about 1 or 2 days before Thanksgiving, as that’s the maximum time it should be sitting in your refrigerator. To thaw a frozen turkey, place it in its original wrapping in the fridge at 40 degrees F or below. You can also thaw a frozen turkey in cold water for an average of 4 hours for a small bird and 10 hours for the largest birds.

Cook at Appropriate Temperatures and Durations

The USDA recommends the following cooking times for different turkey sizes:

  • 8-12 pounds          2 ¾-3 hours
  • 12-14 pounds        3-3 ¾ hours
  • 14-18 pounds        3 ¾-4 ¼ hours
  • 18-20 pounds        4 ¼-4 ½ hours
  • 20-24 pounds        4 ½-5 hours’

Make sure that the internal meat of the turkey is being heated to at least 165 degrees F – measure with a meat thermometer.

Stuffed turkeys or stuffing casseroles should be prepared at no less than about 325 degrees F.

Keep the Cooking Area Clean

This includes the food handler, too! Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling any foods, especially raw meats.

Handle Leftovers Safely

Don’t forget to be just as prudent with Thanksgiving leftovers. Cut up leftover foods and meats and store in the refrigerator within 2-3 hours after the meal. Any leftover stuffing and gravies should be eaten within a few days. Turkey can be kept frozen for up to a month after cooking, and is best thawed in a microwave.

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