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Thanksgiving food safety tips and what temperature to cook a turkey

Tips for food safety preparation, what temperature to cook a turkey and proper food storage.

Mother and daughter cooking turkey

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to share meals with family and friends. Make sure your guests are leaving with joyful memories and delicious leftovers by following these food safety tips.

Preparation steps before baking your bird

There are many things to consider before setting off on your Thanksgiving baking adventure. Consider these tips before putting the bird into the oven:

  • If you're buying a frozen turkey, allow enough time to completely thaw. If you purchased your frozen turkey early to avoid the grocery store frenzy, use within seven months of purchasing.
  • If opting for a fresh turkey, purchase no more than two days before you're planning to cook it.
  • There are several ways to safely thaw your bird including - microwave, cold water method or refrigerator. Never thaw food at room temperature. Just make sure that the temperature doesn't go above 40° F.
  • Buy a meat thermometer! You can't always rely on the pop up thermometer that is in the leg or checking to see if the juices run clear.
  • To brine or not to brine. If you're on team brine, you'll need to account for the brining time and use your meat thermometer to ensure your turkey is brining at safe temperature of 40° F or less.

You can find additional tips from the Butterball® turkey hotline.

Keep your food prep area clean

When thinking food safety, you can never be too clean. Keeping clean hands and a sanitary work space is so important. See the pointers on how to keep things clean during your Thanksgiving meal prep.

  • Do not bathe your bird. Rinsing or washing your turkey prior to baking increases the chances of passing new bacteria to the turkey.
  • Scrub hands with soap under warm water for 20 seconds. Do the same after handling food, especially raw meat or poultry, to avoid cross-contamination.
  • If you're a fan of using a hand towel to dry your hands, have multiple on hand or consider using paper towels for this event.
  • Clean counters, cutting boards, dishes and silverware with hot water and soap before and after preparing each food item.
  • Use separate utensils for the turkey to minimize cross-contamination.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables to remove surface dirt, but do not rinse raw meat or poultry — this makes it more likely for bacteria to spread.

Heat foods to proper temperature

The cooking temperature for your turkey will vary based on the recipe you're following. However, if you don't have a favorite go-to recipe, 325° F is a good cooking temperature for an evenly baked bird. Keep in mind that cooking time will be determined by the weight of the turkey and if it's stuffed or unstuffed. Here are a couple other things to consider when cooking your turkey:

  • Color is never a reliable indicator of safely cooked food. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature — typically 165° F.
  • Test the internal temperature in at least three areas: the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast. If you're stuffing your turkey, make sure the center of the stuffing has also reached 165° F.
  • Frying your turkey? Follow our turkey fryer safety tips.

Keep foods at appropriate temperatures

One of the best things about holiday meals is the abundance of food for guests to graze on throughout the day. Even after food is cooked it's important to maintain food safety.

  • Keep hot foods at 140° F or warmer with chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays.
  • Keep cold foods at 40° F or colder. Nest serving dishes in bowls of ice and store moist desserts, such as pumpkin pie and cakes with whipped frosting, in the refrigerator until serving.

Store Thanksgiving leftovers safely

  • After you've enjoyed the feast, you'll need to get the leftover goodies into the fridge. Food shouldn't be sitting out for more than two hours.
  • Make sure to remove the stuffing from the turkey cavity prior to storing.
  • Divide leftovers into shallow containers, which allow rapid cooling, before storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Use a microwave or oven to reheat foods to an internal temperature of 165° F.
  • Consume leftover food within three to four days. If you're looking to stretch your turkey for a longer period of time, store the leftovers in the freezer for up to three to four months.
  • If you're traveling two or more hours away with your leftovers in tow, make sure that you put the food in a cooler with ice packs.

Since holidays are a time to reconnect with family and friends, discover more tips to stay safe this holiday.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm® (including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates). While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. State Farm is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

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