5 Things You Should Definitely NOT Do This Thanksgiving, According to a Health Inspector

updated Nov 26, 2019
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Robert Acquista has more food safety credentials than we can count. And as a supervisor for the Public Health Food Protection Program in Columbus, Ohio (for more than 30 years!), he’s even inspected our Editor-in-Chief’s kitchen! So it’s safe to say we trust him with our lives. (See what we did there?) We also knew he’d have the answers when we wanted to talk about the biggest Thanksgiving food safety no-nos.

“As you can imagine, my family thinks I’m a pain in the butt at Thanksgiving,” Aquista confesses. We beg to differ, though: It’s better to be safe than sorry! Here are his top five food-safety tips for a happy (and safe!) Turkey Day.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Don’t cross-contaminate.

This is one of the biggest lessons to keep in mind while you’re elbows deep in prepping your Turkey Day feast: “When preparing raw meats, make sure you clean up the area before switching to chopping vegetables or ready-to-eat foods (like cheese),” Aquista tells us.

2. Don’t skip the temperature check.

The risks and dangers of improperly cooked poultry shouldn’t be underestimated and Aquista can’t emphasize this enough. “Make sure everything is fully cooked before serving to guests — especially when it comes to turkey. When done, your turkey’s internal temperature will read 165 degrees.”

3. Don’t touch the food.

Yes, we know, it’s hard to keep everyone’s grubby hands off a glorious table of delicious-looking food (compliments to the chef!). But rules are rules and Aquista is super staunch about this one: “No bare hand contact — use utensils! I personally hate when someone sees the turkey sitting out and they go and use their fingers to take a piece. This is the easiest way to contaminate the food and spread germs.”

4. Don’t leave things sitting out.

To keep your leftover food from reaching the danger zone (bacteria grow most rapidly in temperatures between 40°F and 140° F), refrigerate it ASAP. Aquista has a recommendation for this: “If you have large containers of food, break them down into smaller bags so they can cool more quickly. To accelerate the cooling process, place leftovers in the freezer for a short period of time.” As a general note, food should not be left sitting out for more than two hours.

5. Don’t forget to label and date your leftovers.

People who can’t stand to eat more than a week’s worth of Thanksgiving leftovers will be happy to hear this last tip: “You shouldn’t keep [refrigerated leftovers] longer than seven days. Avoid this by putting a date on each container when you place it in the fridge. That way, you will know when to toss,” says Aquista. Or just mark your calendar now for December 5.

How are you prioritizing food safety in your kitchen this Thanksgiving?