11 Tips for a Safe Thanksgiving
Keep this joyous, food-filled holiday free of illness and injury
Your friends and family will be gathered 'round the table to give thanks and dig in. So Thanksgiving is not the time for food safety slip-ups that could make your circle sick. It's also not the time to accidentally set your house on fire.
Follow these tips for a safe holiday, and leave the drama to your crazy uncle.
Shop right. Fill your cart first with shelf stable items (bread, stuffing mix, crackers and canned goods, like the pumpkin for pie filling) before you move on to perishable items (a fresh turkey, shrimp for shrimp cocktail, eggs). Wrap eggs and raw proteins in separate plastic produce bags and place them in your cart away from raw produce. Finish with frozen foods — then make a beeline home. If you have to run other errands before you go home with your haul, store cold stuff in a cooler or insulated bags filled with ice (you can buy both at the store).
Watch out for pre-basted and self-basting birds. These turkeys often contain soy, wheat or dairy. Skip them if one of your guests has a food allergy.
Stash the turkey somewhere smart. Even if it's cold in your neck of the woods, the garage, back porch or basement won't cut it for turkey storage, warns the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Put it in the fridge, on the bottom shelf. Put a frozen turkey right into the freezer; do not stop at "go." According to the USDA, frozen meat or poultry can begin to grow bacteria after only two hours of being out on a counter.
Plan ahead for the big thaw. If you bought a frozen turkey, make sure you move it into the fridge at the right time. It could take as long as five days to thaw a big bird. Don't resort to thawing it on the counter unless you want to risk the whole household getting sick.
Prep the house. Are older relatives joining the celebration? Take some steps to make the house safer.
Avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. We don't mean letting your staunchly conservative in-laws mix with your raging-liberal parents. We mean using different utensils and cutting boards for meat and produce and washing them in between uses. (New research suggests you should even wash your knife or peeler in between different vegetables.) It's best to use a plastic cutting board for raw meat, poultry and fish, according to the USDA. Sanitize all cutting boards, regardless of what they're made of, as soon as you're through with them.
Don't rinse the bird. It's not necessary or even useful. You'll only risk spreading bacteria around your kitchen.
Use a meat thermometer. Cook the turkey to a safe internal temperature (at least 164 degrees F, according to the USDA). A thermometer also can help you keep cooked foods at a safe temperature until serving time. Hot foods should remain at 140 degrees F or above. Cold foods should remain at 40 degrees F or below.
Related: 5 Chef-Approved Food-Safety Tips
Don't let guests (or the game) distract you from the stove. Thanksgiving is the number one day of the year for cooking fires. If you must leave the kitchen while something's on the stove, take a potholder with you to remind you to go right back.
Safely store the spoils. Don't save foods that have been touched by human lips. It may seem wasteful to toss the slice of turkey your toddler took a tiny nip of, but saliva contains germs and enzymes that can break down starches and proteins in foods. And whisk leftovers into the fridge fast — don't wait 'til after the game of touch football or 'til the after-dinner argument about religion almost comes to blows. If you leave leftovers on the stove or counter too long, bacteria can grow. Portion them into shallow containers so they cool quickly.
Keep the touch football game in check. Maybe someone really does want to pummel cousin Fred after his political rant at the table. But keep it safe and avoid a trip to the ER. Don't bother trying to prove how athletic you are — especially if you aren't.