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Contents

Whether Donating or Receiving Food this Thanksgiving, Everyone Can be Thankful for Food Safety

Byline: Meredith Carothers, MPH, and Chrystal Okonta, MSPH, CHES, Technical Information Specialists

Date:  November 12, 2019

Thanksgiving is a time when many people give back, including volunteering to prepare holiday meals or donating food to those who are less fortunate. This is also a time when people are handling and receiving food in unfamiliar settings. Improper food handling has led to past foodborne illness outbreaks during the holiday season. Those handling food in a different kitchen or preparing food in a new way must be even more aware of basic food safety practices to prevent illness outbreaks.

When helping to prepare foods for others or donating foods

  • Start with the basics: Wash your hands before preparing foods and after handling any raw meat or poultry. When in doubt, wash your hands by wetting with water, adding soap and lathering and then scrubbing together for 20 seconds.
  • “New to You” Appliances: If you’re working in a kitchen you are not familiar with, take some time to find essential tools and equipment such as a food thermometer. Cooking times will likely be slightly different with different ovens, so a food thermometer is your best bet to know when your meat and poultry are done cooking. Check the temperature of the refrigerator too! Using an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator will let you know the exact temperature, which should be 40°F or below.
  • Time and Temperature: If foods are to be delivered or served hot, keep them at 140°F or above. Keep refrigerated foods and foods served cold at 40°F or below. Never let foods sit in the bacteria danger zone (40°F-140°F) for more than two hours.

When receiving foods

  • Check the labels: Carefully read labels to determine how the food needs to be handled. Follow any instructions that may be on the label. If the label does not clearly indicate the food is fully cooked, then it should be handled like it is raw and it must be cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Safe Travels: If foods are received cold, keep them cold by placing in small shallow containers and refrigerating. If you need to travel with an entire turkey it is best to break the whole turkey into smaller pieces and then travel with it in a cooler. This will help the meat stay below 40°F for as long as possible.
  • Reheat to 165°F: For maximum safety, leftover food should be reheated to 165°F. Certain individuals, such as children under 5 years of age, people with cancer and adults over 65 years of age, are at an increased risk of foodborne illness and should always reheat leftover food to 165°F.

If you have any questions, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

You can also visit FoodSafety.gov to learn more about how to safely select, thaw and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.


 

Four Steps for a Food Safe Thanksgiving Feast

Byline: Meredith Carothers, MPH, Technical Information Specialist

Date:  November 20, 2019 

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and you may be spending a lot of time with family, friends, and eating tons of great food. Thanksgiving can be busy, especially with all the preparation and planning, but everyone can have a food safe turkey-day by keeping these four simple steps in mind.

Clean

The first step to any food safe gathering is CLEAN. You and your family members should always start meal preparation with clean hands and utensils and should always wash hands and utensils after handling raw meat and poultry as well.

  • To wash hands properly, wet your hands with running water and lather them with soap for a full 20 seconds. Then rinse and dry with a clean towel or paper towel.

It is also very important to keep your surfaces cleaned and sanitized, especially after they have been contaminated by raw meat or poultry juices.

  • To clean and sanitize your surfaces, you’ll want to start with warm, soapy water and a paper towel or dish rag to wash the surfaces.
  • Second, you’ll need to sanitize the surfaces to kill any remaining bacteria. Many different sanitizers can be used: an easy homemade version is to make a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or you can use a commercial sanitizer or sanitizing wipe. Follow the label instructions on commercial sanitizers to determine whether you need to rinse food preparation areas after use.

Separate

The next step to a food safe feast is SEPARATE. Raw turkey juices can spread around your kitchen, contaminating the surfaces you will be using to prep those delicious sides. If the juices spread, don’t fret – just clean and sanitize your surfaces with the instructions provided in the CLEAN section.

In order to protect the second most important part of your Thanksgiving feast (the sides!), you’ll want to keep any raw meat or poultry products away from any ready-to-eat items. The bacteria on these products can contaminate your ready-to-eat foods, which could make you sick.

  • To properly SEPARATE, keep raw meat and poultry items separate and if possible, prepare any ready to eat foods before you handle raw meat or poultry, or ensure you’ve properly cleaned and sanitized hands, utensils and surfaces first.

Cook

Even though your turkey will be in the oven for hours, it is still important to make sure it is fully COOKED all the way through before you chow down. Your turkey may look golden brown and delicious, but a food thermometer is the only way to know that your turkey has reached the safe minimum internal temperature.

  • Turkey is safe to eat when it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing. Sides (including stuffing and mashed potatoes) should be thoroughly heated to 165°F as well.

Chill

The best part of Thanksgiving is here when it’s time to eat. But, don’t get caught by the clock and let your food items sit out for too long and violate CHILL.

  • When cooked food is out at room temperature, it only has 2 hours before it becomes unsafe. After cooking in the kitchen all day, it’s totally understandable you want to sit and enjoy the meal with family and friends. Don’t forget to watch the clock or set a timer to make sure those delicious leftovers are getting into the refrigerator to CHILL before the time is up.
  • When putting leftovers in the fridge, break up larger items and dishes into smaller portions to help them cool faster and more efficiently.

Follow USDA’s four simple food safety steps to keep you and your loved ones safe this Thanksgiving. If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

You can also visit FoodSafety.gov to learn more about how to safely select, thaw and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.


 

SOS on Turkey Day – My Turkey Isn’t Ready, What Do I Do Now?

Byline: Chrystal Okonta, MSPH, CHES, Technical Information Specialist

Date: November  26, 2019 

On Thanksgiving, sometimes mistakes happen that make your turkey day a turkey don’t. What should you do if the turkey isn’t ready in time? Here are some ways to save the day.

If you don’t have time to cook a whole turkey:
Cook turkey parts, which can be ready in a fraction of the time. Roasting turkey breasts, thighs, or wings instead of the whole bird also allows you to ensure they all remain moist. Set your oven to at least 325°F. Use your food thermometer and insert it in the thickest part of each piece, avoiding the bone; each is done when it reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F.

Turkey Product Weight Timing
Breast, Half 2 to 3 pounds 50 to 60 minutes
Breast, Whole 4 to 8 pounds 1 ½ to 3 ¼ hours
Thighs, Drumsticks ¾ to 1 pound each 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ hours
Wings, Wings drumbsticks 6 to 8 ounces each 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ hours
 

“Spatchcock” your turkey. Cut out the backbone of the turkey using kitchen shears, then flip it over and press firmly on the breast bones so the turkey lays flat. Roast it in the oven at 450°F; for a 12-pound turkey, cook for about 70 minutes. You can also grill a spatchcocked turkey. Use a food thermometer to check that it reaches 165°F in three places: 1) the innermost part of the thigh, 2) the innermost part of the wing, and 3) the thickest part of the breast.

Cook two smaller turkeys. Make sure you have enough space in your oven so that heat can properly circulate around both and cook them evenly. Use the timing for the smaller turkey as your guide, and check that each turkey reaches 165°F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast.

Product Weight Unstuffed Timing
Whole Turkey 8 to 12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours
 

If your turkey is still frozen solid:

Try a safe quick-thawing method. Cold water: Keep the bird in its airtight packaging or a leak-proof bag, submerge it in cold water, and change the water every 30 minutes. Microwave: Use your manufacturer guidelines to thaw for about 6 minutes per pound. Make sure your turkey can fit in the microwave. After using these methods, your turkey must be cooked immediately. Remember to clean and sanitize your microwave, sink, and surfaces, and wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw turkey.

Cook it from the frozen state (NOTE: don’t use an oven bag). A frozen turkey will take at least 50% longer to cook than a thawed turkey. It may be tough to get the giblets out, but you can pull out the packet with tongs once the turkey has been baking for 20 to 30 minutes. When the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast reach 165°F, it is ready to eat.

Weight Timing (from Frozen)
4 to 8 pounds (breast) 2 ¼ to 5 hours
8 to 12 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 4 ½ to 5 ¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 5 ¾ to 6 ½ hours
18 to 20 pounds 6 ½ to 6 ¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 6 ¾ to 7 ½ hours
 

If cooking a turkey is intimidating:

Try a smaller poultry product like chicken, duck, or Cornish game hens. These birds may be easier to handle and take less time to reach a safe internal temperature, even whole. You can cook poultry parts for even more time savings. All poultry products must be cooked to a safe internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a food thermometer.

Type of Poultry Roast Braise/Simmer Grill (direct heat unless noted**)
Whole duck 30 to 35 min per pound at 350°F. Not preferred Not preferred
Duck breast Brown skin-side down in a skillet over medium heat. Then cook 12 min in a 425°F oven. 60 to 75 minutes Grill skin side down 6 min; turn and grill 7 to 8 min.
Duck legs or thighs Roast 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours at 325°F. 1½ hours 30 min, turning every 5 min.
Whole chicken 1 ¼ to 2 ¼ hrs at 350°F. 1 to 2 hrs. 18 to 25 min./lb.**
Whole Cornish hens 50 to 60 min at 350°F. 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ hours 45 to 55 min.**
 

Buy options at your local grocery store, like a rotisserie chicken, or even a complete Thanksgiving meal including turkey. When you purchase cooked food, do not leave it out for more than 2 hours. Have your oven, chafing dishes, or warming trays ready to keep your food above 140°F. If you pick up your meal early, store it in the refrigerator. Break down the poultry and pack it into smaller containers in the fridge. You can reheat it in the oven or microwave with gravy, broth or water to keep the meat moist.

Regardless of your turkey day dilemma, we are here to help! Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

You can also visit FoodSafety.gov to learn more about how to safely select, thaw and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.

 

Last Modified Nov 14, 2019