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The last thing you want to happen when you celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family is for someone to get ill from the food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has several tips on cooking your Thanksgiving turkey to keep everyone safe.

  • Clean and sanitize

    First of all make sure you wash your hands before you start preparing and handling food. Also clean and sanitize all surfaces that will touch food. We’re talking about tabletops, kitchen counters, stoves, and sinks.

  • Avoid cross-contamination

    A USDA study found 60% of kitchen sinks were contaminated with germs after people washed or rinsed their turkey. The USDA advises against washing your turkey but if you do, then you need to fully clean and sanitize your sink. Don’t forget the cutting boards and counter tops. Also you should use separate cutting boards for meat, vegetables, and fruits.

  • Thaw turkeys safely

    NEVER thaw your turkey in hot water or by leaving it out on the counter! Thaw your bird in the refrigerator for a slow and safe defrost. Here’s where you get to do Thanksgiving Math: You will need 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey.

  • Cook your turkeys thoroughly

    A food thermometer is your best friend! Insert it into the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and innermost part of the thigh. You want the turkey to have an internal temperature of 165 Degrees F.

  • Stuffing turkeys

    The USDA doesn’t recommend stuffing your turkey. If not prepared carefully it could be a breeding ground for bacteria which can cause illness. Now if you want to stuff your turkey, they have a few suggestions:
    -prepare wet and dry ingredients separately and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to use them.
    -stuff the turkey loosely. use 3/4 of a cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. (More Thanksgiving Math!)
    -immediately put the stuffed, raw turkey in the oven. The oven temperature should not be any lower than 325 degrees F.
    -allow more cooking time for the stuffed turkey.
    -let the cooked turkey rest for about 20 minutes before you remove the stuffing.

  • The Two-Hour Rule

    According to the USDA, all perishable food must be refrigerated withing two hours of being cooked. After two hours, bacteria can multiply quickly and make the food unsafe. They also say all food should be discarded if it has been left out for more than two hours.

  • The Leftovers

    Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving leftovers? Separate large quantities of leftovers in small, shallow containers and put them in the refrigerator. You can safely store Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge for up to four days.

    If you freeze your leftovers, they remain safe indefinitely but have the best quality for two to six months. When you decide to reheat those frozen Thanksgiving leftovers, make sure you get the internal temperature to 165 degrees F.