Follow 4 steps to a safe Thanksgiving

Serve Thanksgiving guests tasty turkey and all the trimmings this year, not food borne illnesses.


John Walker of JTAK Food Safety in Soldotna and Linda Tannehill, University of Alaska Fairbanks Extension Service Kenai Peninsula District extension agent, recommend holiday cooks follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s four food safety steps: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Walker said the steps are usually the four most common errors made in the kitchen concerning food safety.

Not only should anyone in the kitchen handling food keep their hands clean, Walker said, but food-contact surfaces — knives, cutting boards and counter tops — need to be clean and sanitary as well.

“(It’s) keeping a general cleanliness about the kitchen,” he said.

Tannehill has dogs, so she makes sure she washes her hands after petting them. She recommended cooks, after handling pets, babies or “really anything in the house,” wash their hands.

To prevent cross contamination, Walker said raw foods and ready-to-eat foods need to be kept separate.

If different knives and cutting boards aren’t available for raw and ready-to-eat-foods, Tannehill said, it’s “really important” to clean equipment when switching between the two food categories.

“If they have different cooking temperatures, you don’t want those to be mixing together,” Walker said. “Bacteria from turkey (will) survive lower cooking temperatures.”

Walker said cooks should make sure all Thanksgiving dishes are prepared to the minimum safe temperature by using a thermometer.

“(It’s) not just looking at it or pressing on it and saying, ‘yeah it’s done,’” he said.

For the star of the meal — the turkey — the internal temp at the deepest part of the bird should be 165 degrees at a minimum, Walker said.

He said not cooking the turkey all the way through is probably the biggest Thanksgiving day mistake.

Stuffing cooked inside the turkey also needs to reach 165 degrees. Generally it is safer to cook stuffing separately of the bird because it helps to prevent cross contamination, he said.

Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours after serving, Walker said, and should be eaten usually within three to four days.

However, how long leftovers last vary by refrigerator temperature and how often the fridge is open, Tannehill said.

Tannehill said the temperature danger zone for food is between 40 and 140 degrees, and after food sits out for two hours bacteria starts to grow rapidly.

Walker recommended slicing turkey in large chunks and spreading mashed potatoes in a casserole dish to help the foods cool faster.

Tannehill said pumpkin pies need to be refrigerated because they’re a custard pies made with milk and eggs.

“(Pumpkin) pies are not made to be set out at room temperature,” Tannehill said.

Turkey needs to be properly thawed before cooking. Walker said the safest way to thaw any frozen meat is in the refrigerator.

According to the USDA, for refrigerators set at 40 degrees or below, allow 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey allow 24 hours of thaw time.

For cooks who didn’t plan far enough ahead to allow for days of thawing, the next safest method is to submerge the bird in cold water. The water needs to be changed every 30 minutes or continuously running, Walker said. The highest safe temperature for that method is about 70 degrees, he said.

The USDA estimates water thawing requires 30 minutes per pound of turkey.

Walker said the two most common food borne illnesses from poultry are salmonella and campylobacter.

Most food borne illnesses have roughly the same symptoms, Walker said, which can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

He recommended that anyone with these symptoms, especially if they’re severe, see a doctor.

Walker also said anyone that is feeling sick should not prepare food in an effort to prevent spreading the illness.

“The number one thing you can do to prevent the spreading of illness is washing hands before and after handling foods especially between raw and ready to eat,” Walker said.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at


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