Hot Stuffing & Cooled Leftovers: Food Safety Reminders for Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving, you want to give your guests plenty of good food, good company and good memories to last the year. What you don't want to give them is food poisoning. With that in mind, here are a few friendly reminders for safely cooking and serving a Thanksgiving meal.

Thaw your turkey safely. Safe meat thawing is done in the refrigerator, in the microwave or in cold water to keep the turkey out of the "danger zone" of 40°F to 140°F. To thaw in the refrigerator, plan on about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. Once thawed, it can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking.

To thaw in cold water, submerge the wrapped bird in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes, for a total time of about 30 minutes per pound. Cook soon after thawing with this method.

Cook stuffing on the side. While it is possible to safely cook stuffing inside a turkey, the extra cooking time needed to get the stuffing to the safe temperature of 165°F adds to the risk of dry, overdone meat. If a stuffed bird is one of your holiday traditions, be sure to use a thermometer and check the center of the stuffing for doneness before removing it from the oven.

Put leftovers away promptly. Shaking off your food coma to start putting leftovers away is never easy, but it must be done — ideally within 2 hours of when the food came to the table. But don't load up your refrigerator with steaming containers of still-hot food, which will raise the temperature of the surrounding food into the danger zone. Instead, use ice baths to cool the leftovers to room temperature before putting them away. Leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy should be eaten or frozen within 3 to 4 days.

Keep clean. Not just on Thanksgiving, of course: Wash your hands and kitchen equipment frequently with hot soapy water, especially after coming in contact with raw meat. Sanitize your sink and kitchen counters before and after cooking. And thoroughly wash produce, especially if it will be eaten raw.

Do you have any food safety tips for the holidays?

Related: How Long Will Turkey Gravy Stay Good in the Fridge?

(Image: Emma Christensen)