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Four Steps for a Food Safe Thanksgiving Feast

Posted by Meredith Carothers, MPH, Technical Information Specialist, FSIS in Health and Safety
Nov 20, 2019
Flat-lay of friends or family feasting at Thanksgiving Day festive table with turkey, pumpkin pie, roasted seasonal vegetables and fruit, top view
Traditional Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving holiday celebration party.

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and you may be spending a lot of time with family, friends, and eating tons of great food. Thanksgiving can be busy, especially with all the preparation and planning, but everyone can have a food safe turkey-day by keeping these four simple steps in mind.


The first step to any food safe gathering is CLEAN. You and your family members should always start meal preparation with clean hands and utensils and should always wash hands and utensils after handling raw meat and poultry as well.

  • To wash hands properly, wet your hands with running water and lather them with soap for a full 20 seconds. Then rinse and dry with a clean towel or paper towel.

It is also very important to keep your surfaces cleaned and sanitized, especially after they have been contaminated by raw meat or poultry juices.

  • To clean and sanitize your surfaces, you’ll want to start with warm, soapy water and a paper towel or dish rag to wash the surfaces.
  • Second, you’ll need to sanitize the surfaces to kill any remaining bacteria. Many different sanitizers can be used: an easy homemade version is to make a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or you can use a commercial sanitizer or sanitizing wipe. Follow the label instructions on commercial sanitizers to determine whether you need to rinse food preparation areas after use.


The next step to a food safe feast is SEPARATE. Raw turkey juices can spread around your kitchen, contaminating the surfaces you will be using to prep those delicious sides. If the juices spread, don’t fret – just clean and sanitize your surfaces with the instructions provided in the CLEAN section.

In order to protect the second most important part of your Thanksgiving feast (the sides!), you’ll want to keep any raw meat or poultry products away from any ready-to-eat items. The bacteria on these products can contaminate your ready-to-eat foods, which could make you sick.

  • To properly SEPARATE, keep raw meat and poultry items separate and if possible, prepare any ready to eat foods before you handle raw meat or poultry, or ensure you’ve properly cleaned and sanitized hands, utensils and surfaces first.


Even though your turkey will be in the oven for hours, it is still important to make sure it is fully COOKED all the way through before you chow down. Your turkey may look golden brown and delicious, but a food thermometer is the only way to know that your turkey has reached the safe minimum internal temperature.

  • Turkey is safe to eat when it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing. Sides (including stuffing and mashed potatoes) should be thoroughly heated to 165°F as well.


The best part of Thanksgiving is here when it’s time to eat. But, don’t get caught by the clock and let your food items sit out for too long and violate CHILL.

  • When cooked food is out at room temperature, it only has 2 hours before it becomes unsafe. After cooking in the kitchen all day, it’s totally understandable you want to sit and enjoy the meal with family and friends. Don’t forget to watch the clock or set a timer to make sure those delicious leftovers are getting into the refrigerator to CHILL before the time is up.
  • When putting leftovers in the fridge, break up larger items and dishes into smaller portions to help them cool faster and more efficiently.

Follow USDA’s four simple food safety steps to keep you and your loved ones safe this Thanksgiving. If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

You can also visit to learn more about how to safely select, thaw and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at

Category/Topic: Health and Safety