How to Prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner Safely

In time for the holiday season, families are thinking of mouthwatering recipes to prepare for a memorable Thanksgiving dinner—but what about good food safety practices?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a report on how to prepare poultry safely, minimizing the risks of consuming bacteria.

“When preparing a turkey be aware of the four main safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, and cooking to adequate temperature,” said the CDC.


Turkey being defrosted before cooking should be kept at a safe temperature. While turkey is considered safe frozen, bacteria, which may have also been frozen along with the poultry, could continue to grow as the bird is thawing. The CDC states that the “danger zone” temperature is between 40 and 140°F. Bacteria could grow if it’s in the “danger zone.” To safely thaw turkey or any kind of food, let it defrost in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave oven. For additional guidelines, the CDC has issued “Safe Methods for Thawing.”

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Bacteria found in raw poultry could also contaminate hands, utensils and work surfaces where food is being prepared, allowing it to be transferred in other areas. After working with raw poultry, always wash hands, utensils and any work surfaces that may come in contact with other foods.


Stuffing should be cooked outside of the turkey in a clean casserole dish to avoid being in contact with potential bacteria. “However, if you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, and use a food thermometer,” says the CDC. “Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F." Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached a safe degree.


Once the turkey is completely thawed, the oven should be set to no lower than 165°F. Turkey should be placed breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2-2 ½ inches deep. Temperature of the stuffing’s center and meaty portion of the breast, thigh and wing should be checked using a food thermometer. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum temperature of 165°F. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before all stuffing is removed and the meat is carved.

Food Thermometers

A food thermometer should always be used to guarantee that foods are cooked to a safe-to-eat temperature. To ensure accurate food temperature, thermometers must be calibrated. To do so, fill a pot with distilled water, allowing it to boil. Hold the thermometer probe in boiling water for a minute, without it touching the pot. The thermometer should read between 210° and 214° F. If it doesn’t, adjust it manually to 212° F.

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