How to Have a Safe Thanksgiving: Here's What You Need to Know

Yes, there’s a limit to how long your Thanksgiving dinner can stay on the table.

We want to make sure everyone has a happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving, so we're sharing several crucial food safety tips. The pointers cover everything from knowing when your turkey is fully cooked to how long your Thanksgiving feast should be left out on the dinner table. For most people, this information will serve as a refresher, but the intel is also very helpful for anyone planning to host Thanksgiving for the first time.

Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

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Keep everything clean.

If there's one thing you keep in mind as you host Thanksgiving, it's to keep everything—including your hands, utensils, and prep area—as clean as possible. This will help ensure that your food stays safe and doesn't get contaminated. "Keep bacteria out of your kitchen by washing your hands before, during, and after you handle raw food," the USDA states. "Make sure food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean."

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Separate your ingredients.

Yes, the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole will all end up in your stomach by the end of the night, but as you're preparing each dish, it's crucial that the ingredients remain separate. This step is especially important with regards to raw meat and poultry because raw meat can contaminate produce (and other items) with harmful bacteria. In other words, if you're using a cutting board to cut raw turkey or other meat, make sure you use a different cutting board to prep your green beans and potatoes.

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Make sure your turkey is fully cooked.

Turkey is a tricky bird to cook, especially if you're doing it for the first time or preparing a bird that's larger than what you're used to. To ensure your turkey is properly thawed and fully cooked, the USDA suggests enlisting a meat thermometer to take your turkey's temperature. "The recommended internal temperature must reach 165 F in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing," the USDA notes.

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Don't linger at the dinner table.

Your Thanksgiving feast should be on the dinner table for no longer than two hours "before it becomes unsafe, and bacteria starts to multiply." To avoid unnecessarily tossing any potential Turkey Day leftovers, the USDA recommends you only "put out just enough food for your guests and place the rest in your fridge in shallow containers."

For questions or additional turkey tips, Americans can contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email to reach a food safety expert.

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