Educational health information to improve your well-being.

Cooking a Safe and Healthy Thanksgiving Meal

November 22, 2016 | By Lisa Schwenk
Published in: Nutrition

Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

Information compiled by Kara Meeks, MS, RD, CDE, dietitian and community liaison in Community Outreach at Augusta Health.

Turkey Cooking Chart

"Agghh- my greatest memory from last year's Thanksgiving is getting really sick after eating the meal" said no one ever!

However, according to The Partnership for Food Safety Education, 1 in 6 Americans will get a foodborne illness this year. The Thanksgiving meal is often the largest and most complex meal many cooks prepare each year.

Here are several tips to help keep you and your guests from getting ill:

1. Prepare your kitchen

Make sure you have room in your refrigerator and freezer to safely store all of the food. In addition, make sure you have all of the tools needed such as a food thermometer, at least 2 cutting boards and shallow containers for leftovers.

2. Safely thaw your bird

A turkey should be thawed in one of the following ways:

  • In the refrigerator
  • In a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes
  • In the microwave

If a turkey is left at out room temperature for more than 2 hours, its temperature can climb into the danger zone (between 40⁰F and 140⁰F) where bacteria can grow.

3. Safely handle your bird

Bacteria from raw poultry can contaminate anything that it touches. Make sure that you thoroughly wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces to prevent the spread of bacteria. It is even safer to use separate cutting boards and separate knives for preparing your meat and produce.

4. Safely stuff your bird

It is safest to cook the stuffing in a casserole dish so you can make sure it is thoroughly cooked. However, if you prefer cooking stuffing inside of your turkey, then make sure that you stuff it just before you cook it. Then, use a food thermometer to ensure that the stuffing's center reaches 165⁰F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165⁰F and this increases the risk for food poisoning.

5. Safely cook your bird

Set the oven temperature to at least 325⁰F. Place the completely-thawed turkey (breast side up) in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. Cooking times will vary

6. Leftover Safety

  • Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Store leftovers in shallow pans or containers to decrease cooling time.
  • Do not store leftover stuffing inside of the leftover turkey. Refrigerate these separately.
  • If guests are taking leftovers home, be sure they are kept in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
  • Eat or freeze leftovers within 3 to 4 days.