USDA Provides Tips to Keep Thanksgiving Free from
Published: November 21, 2021
at 07:00 p.m.
By: Press Release from USDA
Keep your Thanksgiving Full of Turkey and Free from Foodborne
Release No. 0248.21
Contact: USDA Press
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2021 — Next week, Americans will enjoy
Thanksgiving with family and friends. While the COVID-19 pandemic is still
top-of-mind, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds us all that it’s also important to keep family and
friends safe from foodborne illness this Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times to
remind people about food safety,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“I personally know how much effort it takes to prepare a full Thanksgiving
meal, and I always ensure I’m following safe food practices like
handwashing, using a food thermometer and avoiding cross-contamination.”
By following the tips below, you’ll lessen
the chances of having a visit from foodborne illness — an unwelcome visitor
— at your table this Thanksgiving.
Clean and Sanitize
Always wash your hands before preparing and
handling food. Handwashing helps to prevent the spread of germs. Recent USDA observational research showed
that 95 percent of participants failed to properly wash their hands before
handing food. Make sure to follow the steps to wash your hands properly.
Clean and sanitize any surfaces that will
touch food such as tabletops, kitchen counters, stoves, sinks, etc.
In a recent study (PDF, 1.7 MB), USDA
found 60 percent of kitchen sinks were contaminated with germs after
participants washed or rinsed poultry. USDA advises against washing your
turkey; however, if you do wash your turkey in the sink, it must be fully
cleaned and sanitized afterwards. To clean, rub down surfaces — including
the sink, cutting boards and counter tops — with soap and hot water, and
then sanitize them with a cleaning solution to remove any residual germs.
You can use a homemade solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine
bleach in one gallon of water. Let the surfaces air dry. Be sure to use
separate cutting boards—one for meat and another for vegetables and fruit.
Thaw the Turkey
Never thaw a turkey on a counter or in hot
water. USDA recommends thawing a turkey in a refrigerator since this allows
for slow and safe thawing. The turkey will need about 24 hours for every
four to five pounds of turkey. After thawing, it is safe to store in the
refrigerator for one to two days. Turkey can also be thawed in a cold-water
bath or microwave; however, it must be cooked immediately after it has
thawed using these methods. If using the cold-water method, allow 30
minutes per pound and submerge the turkey in its original wrapping to avoid
cross-contamination. It’s safe to cook a turkey from its frozen state;
however, it will take at least 50 percent longer to fully thaw. Lastly,
never leave a raw turkey out at room temperature for more than two hours.
Make sure your turkey reaches an internal
temperature of 165 F. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal
temperature in three parts: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost
part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh. USDA recommends using
a food thermometer even if the turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator to
ensure it has reached 165 F in the three previously stated places. When
cooking a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey, check the temperature
with the food thermometer to ensure it reaches 165 F at the thickest part
the breast. All previously cooked side dishes should be reheated to 165 F.
Stuffing your Turkey
USDA does not recommend stuffing your turkey
because it can be a breeding ground for bacteria if not prepared carefully.
However, if you plan to stuff your turkey, please keep the following in
- The wet and dry ingredients
for the stuffing should be prepared separately from each other and
refrigerated until ready to use.
- Stuff the turkey loosely —
about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.
- Immediately place the
stuffed, raw turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 F.
- A stuffed turkey will take
longer to cook. Once it has finished cooking, place a food thermometer
in the center of the stuffing to ensure it has reached a safe internal
temperature of 165 F.
- Let the cooked turkey stand
20 minutes before removing the stuffing.
For more information on turkey stuffing,
visit Turkey Basics: Stuffing.
The Two-Hour Rule
All perishable foods must be refrigerated
within two hours of being cooked, or one hour if the temperature is 90 F or
above. After two hours, perishable food will enter the "Danger Zone" (between 40 F
and 140 F), which is where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the food
to become unsafe. Discard all foods that have been left out for more than
After the meal (but within the two-hour
rule), separate larger quantities of leftovers in small shallow containers
and place them in the refrigerator. Thanksgiving leftovers are safely
stored in a refrigerator for up to four days. In the freezer, leftovers can
be safely frozen indefinitely but will keep best quality for two to six
months. Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 F. Check the
internal temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer
after allowing a resting time.
For Thanksgiving food safety questions, call
the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854),
email MPHotline@usda.gov or
chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time,
Monday through Friday.
Do you have any last-minute turkey day
questions? The Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open on Thanksgiving Day
from 8am-2pm EST.
Check out the USDA FoodKeeper
App, which helps to reduce food waste by providing food and beverage
storage information. For more information about FoodKeeper,
you may view the FoodKeeper website. Access news releases
and other information at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS)
website at www.fsis.usda.gov/newsroom. Follow FSIS on
Twitter at twitter.com/usdafoodsafety or
in Spanish at: twitter.com/usdafoodsafe_es.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each
day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is
transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient
local and regional food production; fairer markets for all producers;
ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities;
building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using
climate smart food and forestry practices; making historic investments in
infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America; and
committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers
and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more,