Thanksgiving Food Safety: How to Prepare and Store Your Turkey

Thanksgiving Food Safety: How To Prepare And Store Your Turkey
There is nothing better than gathering around the dining room table with your whole family to enjoy a delicious turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. It is a time-honored American tradition that the entire Nation looks forward to participating in every year, but it can come with some health and safety risks. Learn about how to keep your family safe during the holiday season by reading the following tips on how to prepare and store your food.

How to Prepare Your Turkey and Stuffing

  • When thawing your turkey in the refrigerator, place it in a container or leak-proof plastic bag (which must be changed every 30 minutes). Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out at room temperature, as it will become unsafe for consumption after two hours. Bacteria can grow rapidly between 40°F and 140°F.
  • Be sure to wash your hands often when handling uncooked turkey, as raw poultry will contaminate anything it comes into contact with. Avoid cross-contamination when handling other food.
  • When cooking the stuffing, be sure that the internal temperature reaches 165°F. To do so, insert a food thermometer in the stuffing’s center.
  • When cooking your turkey, set the oven to at least 325°F and place the completely thawed turkey in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Place the turkey with the breast side up.
  • To ensure that the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, insert a food thermometer in the center of the stuffing and at the thickest portions of the breast, thigh and wing joint.
  • Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the meat.

For more information on Thanksgiving cooking precautions, refer to this QuickSeries blog post.

 How to Store Your Food for Leftovers

  • To be able to safely enjoy your delicious turkey dinner, remember to store your food within two hours of cooking.
  • Divide your meal into small portions and freeze or refrigerate them in covered shallow containers.
  • Do not let your food cool down to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing, as this is actually unsafe. Place your food in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.
  • Turkey and trimmings can be safely consumed after three to four days in the refrigerator. Leftovers stored in the freezer can be safely consumed within two and six months.
When reheating your leftovers in a microwave, try to rotate the food to reheat it evenly. Use a microwave-safe container and lid. Most importantly, remember to enjoy your dinner with your loved ones and think about all the things you are thankful for! For more information on food safety, you can:
  • Refer to CDC’s Food Safety.
  • Read about general food safety guidelines on
  • Call the USDA Meal and Poultry Hotline at: 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854)
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