Image of woman and girl removing turkey from ovenNothing gets into the holiday spirit like a feast with family and friends. But it’s also a time to take precautions when thawing, preparing and cooking our holiday meals. Here are a few tips to help make holiday meals safe and healthy.


Preparing and cooking a turkey

  • When preparing a frozen turkey, it should be thawed in the refrigerator at 40°F, never left out at room temperature where bacteria can multiply rapidly. Allow 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. It's best to thaw your turkey on the bottom shelf to avoid dripping the juices onto other foods. It can also be defrosted in the microware or its original leak-proof wrapper in cold water, as long as the water is changed every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Allow about 30 minutes per pound with this method, and cook it immediately after thawing).
  • When cooking, use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the inner thigh and the thickest part of the breast reaches 165°F before removing the turkey from the oven and let it stand 20 minutes before serving. Always wash the thermometer in between temperature checks. In a 325°F preheated oven, roast the turkey for 10-12 minutes per pound if unstuffed or 12-15 minutes per pound if stuffed. Even if your turkey has a "pop-up" temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also use a thermometer. Cooking times and  temperatures are both very important for ensuring that harmful bacteria are destroyed.
  • The safest way to cook stuffing is to prepare it separately, but if it is cooked inside the bird it should be moist and packed loosely. Whether cooked separately or inside the bird, stuffing should be cooked to at least 165°F. Place turkey in oven immediately after stuffing (avoid fresh pre-stuffed turkeys altogether).

Food handling and preparation

  • Use different cutting boards, preferably different colors, for different kinds of food. It is especially important to keep a separate cutting board just for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from other items in shopping carts or bags. Make sure juices from these do not contaminate other items. 
  • Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator or freezer on trays or plates, on the lowest shelf is possible, to keep juices from dripping on food below.
  • Remember to always wash hands before handling and preparing food and after handling raw poultry or meat. Utensils and any surfaces that come in contact with raw turkey or turkey juices must be disinfected with soap and water to remove bacteria. Countertops and sinks can be sanitized with cleaning products.

Safety with leftovers

  • After cooking, promptly refrigerater leftover perishables.
  • If you are going to re-heat any left-overs, be sure to thoroughly re-heat them to at least 165°F.