Tips for safe, fun, easy and tasty Thanksgiving

November 20, 2012|Lynn Little

The University of Maryland Extension, together with the Partnership for Food Safety Education, have put together a list of safety tips for a fun, tasty and safe family Thanksgiving feast this year.

 Get the right size bird for your big eaters, and thaw safely. Plan on a pound of whole turkey per person for your feast and you will also have some leftovers. The safest method for thawing a frozen whole turkey is in the refrigerator. Leave the bird in its original packaging and place in a shallow pan in the refrigerator. The bird will thaw at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds in 24 hours. See more about thawing methods at

 When cooking your turkey, take the temperature. Always use a food thermometer to ensure your turkey is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. 

Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. 

A 12- to 14-pound unstuffed turkey will take 3 to 4 hours to cook at 325 degrees. Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes for easier carving. For a chart of turkey temperature and time combinations visit

 Stuff your turkey safely. Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it is placed in the oven.

Mix the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using. Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.

For optimum safety and more even cooking, it is recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole dish. Cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees, measuring the temperature with a food thermometer. 

 Love your leftovers. Having leftover turkey and other dishes means, you can have additional tasty meals the day after Thanksgiving. 

Remember, time and temperature cause bacteria to grow which is why leftovers must go into the refrigerator within two hours. Carve turkey meat from the bones, place in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator or freezer.

Use cooked refrigerated leftover turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days and gravy in 1 to 2 days. Cooked turkey keeps for 3 to 4 months in the freezer.

Even when refrigerated properly (at 40 degrees) leftovers should be eaten, frozen or discarded within 3 to 4 days. 

When using leftovers, reheat the foods to 165 degrees or until hot and steaming; bring gravy to a boil before serving.

Find delicious recipes using leftovers at and be sure to they go into the refrigerator within two hours.

If you need food safety support, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or you can email questions to or at For last minute questions, the hotline will be open Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

For questions about safe handling of the many foods that go into a delicious holiday meal, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood call 888-723-3366

Safe, fun, easy, tasty.  It's all at Click on resources to access the holiday food safety success kit.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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