UF Experts Offer Tips on Thanksgiving Food Safety

ORLANDO, Fla. – As families gather for Thanksgiving, hosts and hostesses want to make sure no one walks away with food poisoning. A University of Florida registered dietitian with UF/IFAS Extension Orange County offers tips on keeping your meal safe for the holiday.

“The first step is to thaw the turkey correctly, and there are three ways to do that,” said Virgilia Zabala, a family and consumer sciences educator.

  • Refrigerator: It takes 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird, Zabala said. So, a 10-pound turkey would take two full days to thaw.
  • Sink: Put the turkey in a sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to make sure it stays cold, Zabala said.
  • Microwave: Thawing a turkey in the microwave is not practical, but if you choose to do this, check the owner’s manual to determine how many minutes is recommended per pound, Zabala said. “Remember to remove all of the wrapping before putting the bird in the microwave,” she said. Also, you must cook the turkey immediately after thawing in a microwave.

Now that the turkey is thawed and ready to be cooked, make sure that the finished product has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit, Zabala said. If you put stuffing in the raw bird, make sure the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees, she said. “It is safer to cook the stuffing separately, then put it into the bird,” she said.

The same principle applies to those brave enough to try to make a “turducken”: a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. “All three birds have to reach a safe temperature of 165 degrees, so it’s tricky,” Zabala said.

“But the chances of finding a pathogen like salmonella range from 20 to 80 percent, so you don’t want to take any chances,” said Keith Schneider, a professor of food science and human nutrition with UF/IFAS.

Now, you are ready to prepare your side dishes. This is where food safety becomes even more important, Schneider said.

“One of the biggest mistakes you can make while preparing a holiday meal is cross-contamination,” Schneider said. “Any tools or surfaces you’re using to prepare raw meat can become contaminated with harmful microorganisms, so those have to be thoroughly cleaned before being used to prepare other foods. If you rinse meat in the sink, be sure you sanitize the sink and faucet handles after you’re done.”

When the meal is over and you are ready to store leftovers, consider freezing larger portions, Zabala said. “Leftovers are good for only about three to four days in the refrigerator. But, turkey can be kept in the freezer for three to four months,” she said.

Enjoy the holiday meal, but remember to think safety, Zabala said. “You don’t want a wonderful meal to be ruined by contamination,” she said.

Click here for more tips.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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