Thanksgiving Food Safety

Quick Tips to Keep Your Family Safe This Thanksgiving

As the holidays fast approach (just days away!), we are all busy planning menus for family gatherings and special events. As we think about what food we're serving to our guests, something we can easily overlook is food safety. No one has time to sit and read a manual on how to safely cook a turkey, so the Georgia Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division has compiled a quick list of tips to get you ready for Thanksgiving.

1. There are two safe methods for defrosting a turkey or other large meat, such as ham: One option is to put the turkey into your fridge for thawing (leave yourself 24 hours of defrost time per 4-5 pounds), the second option is to put the turkey in the sink under cold running water (estimated 30 minutes defrost time per pound).

2. Cooking your bird to the proper end-point temperature is critical! Using a food thermometer, the turkey must be cooked to at least 165? degrees. To get a better idea of how to cook a turkey, watch this short video.

3. Stuffing and/or dressing should be cooked and prepped OUTSIDE of the turkey. Once this side dish and the turkey have both been cooked to 165?, the dish can be spooned into the bird's cavity for display.

4. After the cooking is done and you're waiting to serve up, make sure the food stays warm. All hot foods should be kept at 140? degrees, so keep them in the oven on low/warm heat or use hot plates or Bunsen burners underneath the dishes of hot foods.

5. Don't spike your apple cider with pathogens. Make sure you only serve up pasteurized cider; if you're making it from scratch heat the cider to 160? for one minute. If purchasing from a roadside stand, ask and/or look at the label. Get more apple cider safety tips in our blog here.

6. After all the fun is over and the food needs to be stored, be sure to cool it down and pack it up soon - it can safely sit at room temperature for about two hours; after that, bacteria can start to grow to hazardous levels.

7. If you're planning on serving homemade ice cream with your pumpkin pies, make sure to choose one of these options to keep the ice cream safe if you're using eggs: Cook the cream base, use an egg substitute, or use pasteurized eggs to help eliminate the possibility of Salmonella.

If you follow these short tips, you can make sure that your Thanksgiving is not only fun, but safe as well! For other quick tips or to ask questions, follow the Food Safety Division on Twitter @GDAFoodSafety, or check out the USDA Ask Karen website.