Safe Food Handling Reminder for Thanksgiving

For Immediate Release: November 25, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON – The Health Department hopes everyone enjoys a safe and happy holiday, but also wants to remind people to take precautions and avoid foodborne illness.

A food thermometer and clean utensils and countertops should be standard equipment during Thanksgiving. Wash hands, wipe down counter tops, use clean utensils, thaw the food properly, and try to store leftovers in air-tight packaging.

Leftovers can become contaminated if they are not stored and refrigerated at 40 degrees within two hours after the meal is served, so avoid postponing cleanup and storage. Each year, an estimated 45 million turkeys are eaten in the United States at Thanksgiving. Gravy and side dishes can be sources of illness as well.

Here are some steps that all cooks can follow to keep their food safe during the holidays, and all year long.

Safe Food Handling Guidelines
  1. Wash your hands in warm, soapy water before and after handling any food, using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
  2. Bacteria can live in towels, sponges, and dish cloths. Wash them often and replace sponges every few weeks.
  3. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other food. Wash your hands, cutting board, and knife in hot soapy water after cutting the turkey and before dicing other ingredients.
  4. Cook all food to proper temperatures. For turkeys, cook until the meat thermometer reads 180°F in the thigh, 170°F in breast pieces, and 165°F in the stuffing. Re-heat leftovers to 165°F or until they are hot and steaming.
  5. Refrigerate all foods. Place leftovers in shallow storage containers to refrigerate or freeze.
  6. After cooking, remove stuffing from poultry or other meat and refrigerate stuffing and meat separately.
About Defrosting

Never defrost food at room temperature. Defrosting turkeys and other large, frozen meats is especially challenging for cooks. To defrost in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for each 5 lbs. of meat. Be sure to place a plate or container under the meat while it is defrosting so that the juices won’t contaminate other food. To use cold water to defrost, keep the meat in its unopened wrapper and cover with cold water in a container or sink. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold. The estimated thawing time is 30 minutes per 1 lb. of meat.

Visit the Health Department website at for more information about Safe Food Handling for a Healthy Holiday.


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