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Don’t Forget Your Thanksgiving Food Safety Steps

Posted by Crystal Essiaw, Public Affairs Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA in Health and Safety
Nov 19, 2020
Father and children decorate the turkey
USDA provides food safety reminders to ensure that you will be able to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal while remaining grateful and healthy. Photo provided by FSIS

Thanksgiving is one week away – the pressure is on! Cooking this special meal does not have to be intimidating. With a few food safety reminders, you can ensure that you will be able to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal while remaining grateful and healthy.

Keep it Clean

  • Handwashing is the first step to protect you and everyone around your Thanksgiving table. It’s also the best way to keep uninvited guests like bacteria out of your kitchen. In several observational studies, USDA found that consumers repeatedly failed to properly wash their hands, specifically not scrubbing their hands with soap for the 20 seconds required to remove germs. There are five simple steps to properly wash your hands:
    • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
    • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
    • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
    • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
    • Dry your hands using a clean towel.
  • Make sure food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean and sanitized before you start cooking.
    • To clean your surfaces, you will need soap and hot water, and a paper or dish towel. Use these to remove any dirt and debris you can see.
    • Then, you should sanitize the surfaces to kill any remaining bacteria. Many different sanitizers can be used. An easy homemade sanitizing solution can be made by mixing one tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach with one gallon of water, or you can use a commercial sanitizer or sanitizing wipe. Allow to air dry and follow the label instructions on commercial sanitizers to determine whether you need to rinse food preparation areas after use.
    • Campylobacter and Salmonella, bacteria found in poultry products, can survive on countertops and other kitchen surfaces from four to up to 32 hours, so make sure you repeat this step after handling raw turkey.

Meal Prep

  • Keep raw meat and poultry separate from produce and cooked foods. Prepare foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, before handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
  • Do not wash or rinse raw turkey. USDA research found that one in four people who wash or rinse poultry cross-contaminate other food items being prepared with germs from the poultry.
    • Washing, rinsing or brining meat and poultry in salt water, vinegar, or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria. If there is anything on your raw poultry that you want to remove, pat the area with a damp paper towel and immediately wash your hands.
  • The only way to kill bacteria is to cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature by using a food thermometer. You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria on meat and poultry, so you should always use a food thermometer.
    • Your turkey is safe to eat when the temperature reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit in three places:
      1. The thickest part of the breast.
      2. The innermost part of the thigh.
      3. The innermost part of the wing.


  • When cooked food is out at room temperature, it only has two hours before it becomes unsafe. So make sure you put out just enough food for your guests and place the rest in your fridge.
    • Serve small portions of a large dish. You can keep the remainder of the dish warm in the oven or cold in the fridge.
    • If you decide to reheat your dishes, be sure they reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.

If you have questions about preparing 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 safety 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