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Thanksgiving Food Safety

Safe food handling is important for everyone in order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.  It is especially important for cancer patients to practice safe food handling during the holidays because of the potential increased susceptibility that can result from a compromised immune status.  Here are some helpful tips to ensure safe food handling during Thanksgiving.


Safely Thawing Your Turkey

  • Be sure to thaw the turkey completely because a frozen or partially frozen turkey will take longer to cook than a fully thawed bird and may leave areas that are not fully cooked.
  • With the refrigerator temperature set at 40ºF, you need to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 lbs of the turkey. Therefore, a 20 lb turkey could take at least 4 days to thaw safely.
  • Turkey can be thawed in cold water at about 30 minutes per pound of turkey.  Wrap turkey well before submerging in water. The water should also be changed every 30 minutes until the thawing process is complete.  Begin cooking the turkey as soon as it is fully thawed. A 20 lb turkey will take approximately 10 hours.
  • For microwave thawing, follow instructions printed on the turkey. Be sure to cook immediately after microwaving, as some areas may begin to cook in the microwave.


Stuffing the Turkey

  • The safest method to cook stuffing is separate from the turkey in a casserole dish at 325ºF, allowing it to reach an internal temperature of 165ºF.
  • Do not buy fresh, pre-stuffed turkeys as there is a higher risk that harmful bacteria can grow if they are not handled correctly.


Cooking the Turkey

  • The oven temperature should be set no lower than 325ºF for a whole turkey.
  • The turkey is done when it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165ºF (innermost part of thigh and wing and thickest part of breast).  It is recommended to check temperature even if your turkey comes with a pop-up indicator.


Thanksgiving Leftovers

  • Discard any leftovers that have been left outside for more than 2 hours.
  • Leftovers should be refrigerated in shallow containers.
  • If you plan on giving leftovers to friends, don’t forget to send them home with an icepack to keep the leftovers safe for travel in the car.
  • Use refrigerated leftovers within 3-4 days and frozen leftovers within 2-6 months.
  • Reheat turkey to an internal temperature of 165ºF keeping it moist by added broth, water, or gravy.


We wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!


For more information

UDSA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline:

1-888-674-6854 MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov AskKaren@usda.gov


Home Food Safety





Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

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