Thanksgiving can be such an exciting time! Friends and family come together to enjoy one another’s company, feast on delicious traditional foods and maybe some new ones, and contemplate the things for which they are grateful.

But sometimes the good company and festivities can distract us from a particularly important part of creating a Thanksgiving feast: safe preparation of the holiday bird.

Food safety experts tell us that many outbreaks of foodborne illness happen at Thanksgiving. People who are unfamiliar with poultry roasting—and even experienced cooks—may thaw, prepare, roast and store leftovers in an unsafe manner. We’re often cooking a lot of food, the meal can stretch over several hours from appetizers to dessert, and we might be tempted to settle in to watch a football game before we head back to the kitchen to refrigerate those leftovers. But it’s important to remember that bacteria flourish when turkey is in a temperature danger zone: warmer than 40° and cooler than 140°.

Here’s a checklist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for food safety at every step:

Thawing. If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, never set it out to thaw on the countertop. Thaw it in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed before roasting. Here is some safe thawing information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Preparation. Clean your work area, utensils and your hands thoroughly before preparing the turkey. Wash hands, work surface and utensils again before touching other foods.

Stuffing. Food safety experts prefer that we cook the stuffing separately in a casserole dish. However, knowing that most of us love a stuffed bird, they emphasize that we should stuff the turkey at the last minute and check it with a food thermometer to see that it is at least 165°.

Roasting. Set the oven for no lower than 325°. Test for doneness with a food thermometer. For a whole turkey, check the internal temperature of the thigh, wing, thickest part of breast and the center of the stuffing. The temperature should be at least 165°

Storing Leftovers. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. Remove the stuffing from the turkey before refrigerating.

Taking these precautions will help ensure that foodborne illness doesn’t make an unwelcome guest appearance at your holiday celebration!

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Find more safe turkey preparation tips here.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Ask your doctor if you have questions about food safety and your own susceptibility to foodborne illness.

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