Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays – family, friends, gratitude, and of course, the food! But (hopefully) the last thing you want to do is send your guests home with food poisoning. Check out my top 7 Thanksgiving food safety tips below.
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1. Safely thaw the turkey.
Knowing how to safely thaw the turkey is the first step for Thanksgiving food safety! Rule number one? Don’t thaw at room temperature. Room temperature is in the temperature danger zone that is prime for rapidly growing bacteria.
Instead, thaw either in the fridge or in cold water.
To thaw your turkey in the fridge allow for 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. Be sure to thaw the turkey in a large container so if any juices leak they won’t drip and contaminate the fridge and other nearby foods.
To thaw your turkey in cold water allow for 30 minutes per pound in cold water, refreshing the water every 30 minutes.
2. Don’t wash the turkey.
I know this seems counterintuitive, but washing the turkey can actually increase bacteria! The reason is because washing the turkey can lead to bacteria spreading on more kitchen surfaces, which can also lead to more cross-contamination.
The good news is, if you’re used to washing your turkey, this means you can simplify things and skip this step! Who doesn’t want a little more time and ease on Thanksgiving? 😉
3. Don’t stuff the turkey.
I promise I’m not trying to stir the “dressing vs. stuffing” pot, but as traditional as it may be, stuffing the turkey just isn’t a good food safety practice.
(I know, sorry mom!)
Stuffing the turkey can create a multitude of food safety problems. It can lead to cross-contamination, both from a bacteria and an allergen perspective. It will also take longer to cook the turkey, since the stuffing needs to be cooked to a safe temperature, too, which can lead to a dry turkey. Stick with dressing on the side and enjoy a faster cooking bird, too.
4. Use a food thermometer.
A food thermometer is your best friend in the kitchen, especially on a major cooking day like Thanksgiving.
Cooking and reheating foods to proper temperature is essential for food safety. All you need to remember (or bookmark or screenshot this page) are these two sets of numbers:
- 165 degrees: the turkey is done when a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the turkey thigh reaches 165F. 165F is also the temperature you want to reheat foods to prior to serving.
- 40-140 degrees: this is the temperature danger zone, or the range of temperatures in which bacteria grow the most rapidly (potentially doubling in as little as 20 minutes!).
5. Remember the two hour rule.
Don’t let any perishable food remain at room temperature for more than two hours. At (or before) the two hour mark, you want to get all the leftover food safely packaged and refrigerated. You could also reheat food as well, but remember – you just don’t want food to stay in the 40-140F temperature danger zone.
6. Wash your hands. All the time.
Honestly, no one washes their hands enough in the kitchen. Here are some suggestions from the CDC of when you need to wash your hands:
- Before, during, and after preparing food (i.e. between preparing different foods, after cracking raw eggs, after handling raw proteins like the turkey, etc.)
- After touching pets or handling pet food or treats
- Before eating food
- After using the toilet
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After changing diapers or helping clean up a child who has used the toilet
- After touching garbage
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
And this may sound obvious, but be sure to wash your hands properly with each of these instances. Don’t just rinse your hands or wipe them on a towel. Use hot water, soap, and wash thoroughly.
7. Ask guests about any food allergies.
Food allergies are something that can pose a severe safety threat for some individuals. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, and as someone with lifelong severe food allergies, and now also a mom to a baby with food allergies, here are my recommendations from a personal and professional standpoint on how to approach food allergies when hosting the holidays:
- Ask your guests if they have food allergies. If they say yes, get more information. What are they allergic to? How severe are their allergies?
- Ask for menu input (and truly be open if they have suggestions for simple ingredient swaps or dish changes that would make a dish one that everyone can enjoy).
- Offer allergy-free options. Many basic dishes can be made free of the top 8 most common food allergies (wheat/ gluten, soy, egg, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy), along with other allergens, with an awareness of ingredients and a few simple ingredient swaps.
- Prepare foods separately. Cross contamination can still trigger a reaction for many, like if you use the same knife you chopped pecans with to trim off the ends of green beans.
- See if your guests would like to bring any food to the meal. Individuals with life-threatening food allergies are putting their life (or their child’s life) in the hands of whoever is preparing food. They may feel significantly more comfortable and able to relax and enjoy the day if they bring a dish/ several dishes with them that they know are safe for them to consume.
- If you have a buffet set up, list the food item and its ingredients on a card to show what it is and what is in it.
Looking for some delicious, healthier Thanksgiving recipes? Try some of my favorites:
- Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
- 3-Ingredient Spinach Artichoke Dip with veggie dippers + crackers
- Rosemary Cumin Roasted Chickpeas
- Stuffed Mini Peppers with Brie and Pesto
- Greek Yogurt Mashed Potatoes
- Cranberry Apple Harvest Salad
- Cinnamon Glazed Carrots
- Maple Spiced Roasted Butternut Squash (from the “Eat Your Veggies” ebook!)
- Healthy, Vegan, Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole
- Maple Dijon Brussels Sprouts
- Vegan Creamed Corn
- Gluten-Free Stuffing with Sausage
- Instant Pot Cranberry Sauce
- Prosciutto Green Beans