A Healthy and Food Safe Thanksgiving

— Written By Courtney Tevepaugh
en Español / em Português

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“Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be genuine. But most of all, be thankful.”

pumpkin centerpiece

It is that time of year again! Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means a lot of food and a lot of cooking! Check out these food safety tips on preparing turkey to keep your family happy and healthy during this holiday season.

Thanksgiving Turkey Tips

Thawingturkey clipart

No need to wash or rinse the turkey before cooking. Washing the turkey in the sink can splash bacteria on clean cooking surfaces and countertops up to 3 feet away!
If you need to thaw your turkey, you can do so in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Do not thaw the turkey at room temperature. This may result in the turkey staying in the temperature danger zone (40-140°F) for too long.
  • Refrigerator – The best and safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 lbs.
  • Cold Water – Place frozen turkey in its packaging under cold running tap water.
  • Microwave – Thawing times will depend on your specific microwave. Check packaging directions on your turkey.

Cooking roasted turkey

Set the cooking temperature to at least 325°F. Cooking times can range from 2.75 to 5 hours depending on the size. Stuffed turkeys take about 30 minutes longer.
  • If stuffing your turkey, stuff it loosely and make sure the stuffing is moist. It is safer to cook the stuffing separately.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check that your turkey is done cooking and has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Stick the meat thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. The temperature should read at least 165°F in all three places. Note: the turkey juice may not be clear at 165°. That is ok. Often, the juice is clear when the turkey is overcooked, so always check the temperature rather than the juice. If you cook stuffing in your turkey, make sure the center of the stuffing also reaches 165°F.

Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking

Leftovers Illustration of a cooked turkey

Keep leftovers for only 4 days. If you want to keep some leftovers for longer, store them in freezer bags or an airtight container in the freezer for up to 4 months. Make sure to refrigerate your leftovers less than 2 hours after they are done cooking. Keep leftovers safe by cooling them faster by cutting the turkey into pieces, line the pieces in a single layer on a pan and let cool before refrigerating.

Reheat leftovers easily in the microwave. Leftovers should reach 165°F or steaming hot.

If you would like even more information on food safety and turkey advice, check out the USDA website links. You can even call the Meat and Poultry Hotline on Thanksgiving if you run into any cooking issues at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). 

baked apple pieEat Local for Thanksgiving! 

Here in North Carolina and Wilkes County, our farmers grow delicious foods that are a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving meal. Thanksgiving is a great time to spotlight all of North Carolina’s bounty!
What foods do you already use in your Thanksgiving meal that could be sourced locally? Could that apple pie recipe that’s been passed down for generations be made with local apples? What about that sweet potato casserole? Buying our food locally is a great way to support local farmers and the local economy! Consider visiting a local orchard this season for fresh apples, cider, canned goods and more! 

Stay healthy with the ‘Maintain, don’t gain’ Holiday Challenge!

The holidays are a great time to enjoy delicious food. Sign up for the Holiday Challenge to receive tips throughout the holiday season.
Here are some additional healthy cooking tips to help you enjoy your favorite recipes!
  • Bake, broil or roast lean meats such as poultry
  • Replace high-fat cheeses with lower fat options
  • Use lower-fat milk or yogurt
  • Select oils that provide omega-3 fatty acids such as canola or flaxseed oil
  • Cut the amount of salt in the recipe in half- you can always add more at the table!
  • If using canned coups or vegetables in recipes, choose “reduced-sodium” or “no-salt-added”
  • Rinse canned vegetables with water to reduce sodium content
  • Season foods with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, peppers, and lemon or lime juice to add flavor