Turkey day safety tips – National Consumers League

Untitled-1.jpgThe holidays are fast approaching and whatever your family’s traditions, they are sure in involve large quantities of food. With all that food comes food safety risks. Here are a few tips to make sure your family has a safe holiday season. From NCL to your table, we hope you have a great holiday season!


Turkey Tips

Defrost: Don’t leave your bird out overnight! Plan to defrost in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of bird.  If you don’t have time for that, defrost your bird in a cold water bath changing the water every 30 minutes. This method should take about 30 minutes per pound to defrost. 

Preparation: Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t wash the bird before cooking it. Doing so only spreads germs to other foods, utensils and surfaces. If you plan on stuffing the turkey, don’t do so until right before cooking as harmful bacteria can being to grow in stuffing left to sit inside the turkey for long periods.  

Cooking: Turkeys, especially large ones, can take a long time to cook so make sure you allow plenty of time for your bird to be completely cooked. The internal temperature should be 165⁰F. Check the temperature of the bird at multiple locations; you want to make sure the coldest part has reached the appropriate temperature. If you have stuffed your bird, check it to make sure the stuffing has reached 165⁰F as well. Even if your turkey comes with a pop up thermometer, double check the temperature with a meat thermometer to make sure it’s done.

Bacteria Free Buffets

The first step to serving safe food throughout the holidays, or any time, is to ensure you thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling food. Always use clean plates, not those that previously held raw meat or poultry as they can cross contaminate the food you are serving with bacteria. The same is true for cutting boards and other surfaces prepared foods touch, like counters. 

Ensure that all food is cooked thoroughly reaching safe minimum internal temperatures.  All poultry needs to be cooked to at least 165⁰F.   Beef, pork, lamb, and veal should be cooked to 145⁰F if they are intact and 160⁰F if they are ground.  Storing foods in shallow containers allows them to cool or freeze quickly and evenly.  When reheating hot foods for a buffet keep them in the oven with the temperature set around 200-250⁰F until they are ready to be served. 

If possible when food is put out for the buffet, keep hot foods at 140⁰F or warmer and cool foods at 40⁰F or cooler.  For hot foods, this can be done with slow cookers, warming trays and chafing dishes.  Cold foods can be nested in dishes over ice. 


Put all leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.  For most efficient cooling, store large amounts of leftovers in several smaller containers.  Leftovers should be stored at 40⁰F or 4.4⁰C or frozen at 0⁰F or -17.7⁰C.  Make sure containers are sealed and keep refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen if you plan on keeping them longer.  Reheat hot foods to 165⁰F.

Stay Active

As we all know, the holidays can be a difficult time to maintain a healthy diet.  Studies have shown that while holiday weight gain isn’t as dramatic as we think, it can contribute to weight gain over a lifetime.  Most people gain about one pound over the holiday season which is a rather manageable amount.  That doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself some of the best food you’ll have all year, instead make sure you stay active and eat everything in moderation.  It might be cold but there are plenty of fun winter activities such as ice skating, skiing, sledding or even taking a brisk walk that can help you stay active throughout the holidays. 

More Questions?

For Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season you can download The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) free app called “Ask Karen” that has answers in both English and Spanish for any food safety question you might have.  As always, the USDA will have its bilingual Meat and Poultry Hotline available Monday through Friday, 10a.m. to 4 p.m.  You can call in toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

From everyone here at NCL, we hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season!