DPHSS issues Thanksgiving food safety tips


The Division of Environmental Health of the Department of Public Health and Social Services would like to remind the public that serving improperly prepared or undercooked turkey can potentially cause the spread of food-borne illness, such as Salmonella. Follow the food safety tips below when preparing, cooking, storing your turkey, and other food dishes this Thanksgiving.

  1. Washing Your Hands: Always wash your hands before preparing and handling food. Handwashing helps to prevent the spread of germs. You can find handwashing tips at the following CDC link: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html.

  2. Avoid Cross-Contamination: To prevent cross-contamination, ensure you clean surfaces, such as the sink, cutting board, and countertops with soap and hot water, and then sanitize them with a cleaning solution to remove any residual germs. Be sure to wash cutting boards between uses, or have one for meat and another for vegetables and fruits.

  3. Thaw Turkey Safely: Thaw turkey in the refrigerator in a container, or in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. When thawing a turkey in the microwave, follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instructions. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the “temperature danger zone,” which is between 40°F and 140°F.

  4. Safely Cook Your Turkey: Set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2.5 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey. To ensure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.

  5. Safely Prepare Stuffing: Cooking stuffing in a casserole dish makes it easy to ensure it is thoroughly cooked. If you put stuffing in the turkey, do so just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may cause foodborne illness. Wait for 20 minutes after removing the turkey from the oven before removing the stuffing from the turkey’s cavity; this allows it to cook a little bit longer.

  6. Leftovers: After the meal, immediately refrigerate leftovers such as meat, dressing, gravy, or soups in uncovered small shallow containers so they cool quickly. Ensure leftovers are stored separately, especially turkey meat, stuffing, and gravy. Reheat solid leftovers, such as turkey and potatoes, to at least 165 °F. Bring gravy, sauce, and soups to a rolling boil. Eat refrigerated turkey within three (3) to four (4) days; stuffing and gravy within one (1) to two (2) days.

Following these food safety tips will help prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses.