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Countdown to Thanksgiving

Posted by Tina Hanes, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA in Health and Safety
Nov 18, 2015
Woman shopping
Planning ahead is key for a food safe Thanksgiving.

The holiday countdown has begun.  In only a few weeks the holiday season begins, so now is the time to start thinking about Thanksgiving. USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline is ready to assist by offering some sure-fire ways to beat the clock to ensure a safe and delicious holiday dinner.

Shop Early to Reduce Stress Later

Plan your menu now and make your grocery list while reviewing your entire menu, including recipes to be sure nothing is forgotten. Shelf stable items like cranberry sauce can purchased now to shorten your shopping list later.

Clear the Fridge

Start using foods taking up space in your refrigerator now. This can help to make sure you have plenty of room for your turkey and other holiday foods.

Not sure if those leftovers are still good? We have an app for that. The FoodKeeper contains storage advice to help you determine if you should toss or can save that food.  The app is available for Android and Apple devices.

Gather the Equipment

Is your roasting pan large enough for the turkey? Do you have a food thermometer? For safety USDA recommends using a food thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey. Why? Because the only way you know the turkey is safe to eat is when it is cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. You can cook it to a higher temperature if you prefer. But using a thermometer takes the guesswork out of ensuring it’s done and safe.

Buying the Turkey

Allow 1 pound of turkey per person. Whether to buy a fresh or frozen turkey is a matter of personal preference. There is no significant difference in quality between the two. Buy a fresh turkey no more than 1 to 2 days before cooking.  Check with your grocer as some stores allow you to preorder a turkey a few weeks in advance to pick up later.

If finding the right-sized bird is critical, buy a frozen one early and save yourself the trouble of running from store to store later during Thanksgiving week.  Keep the turkey frozen until you’re ready to thaw and cook it. Our fact sheet Countdown to the Thanksgiving holiday can help with thawing times and other holiday questions. Once thawed it’s safe for 2 more days in the refrigerator.

Need Help?  We’re Here!

If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at  Visit for questions in Spanish.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety