Taking the right precautions in food preparation and leftover storage can help keep a satisfying Thanksgiving meal from turning into a holiday disaster.

There are few things more satisfying at Thanksgiving than a well-cooked turkey.

But a wrong turn in preparation could mean a dinner followed by a foodborne illness.

Symptoms of food poisoning can be anywhere from mild to very serious. The most common symptoms of food poisoning are: upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or fever.

To prevent a foodborne outbreak from spoiling your family traditions, Southern Seven Health Department offers these basic steps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to safely handle your main course.

• Start by thawing your turkey properly. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. This can safely be done in the refrigerator in a container, in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes), or in the microwave following the microwave oven manufacturer’s instructions. Check your turkey’s packaging for recommended defrost times.

• Do not wash or rinse raw turkey. Federal food safety advice has recommended against washing turkey or chicken since 2005, but some habits are hard to break. A 2020 survey found that 78% of participants reported washing or rinsing their turkey before cooking. Old recipes and family cooking traditions may keep this practice going, but it can make you and your family sick. Poultry juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops.

• Use a separate cutting board for raw turkey — never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate, cutting board or other surface that previously held raw turkey. Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing turkey and before you prepare the next item. And wash your hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling any contaminated items, including the turkey.

• Don’t forget the stuffing. Cooking stuffing separately from the turkey in a casserole dish makes it easy to be sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking. With either cooking method, use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may then cause food poisoning. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, wait 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before removing the stuffing; this allows it to cook a little more.

• If you oven-bake your turkey, cook it thoroughly by setting the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh and wing joint. Even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, you should still use a food thermometer to check that it is safely cooked.

• Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide big cuts of meat, such as a roast turkey, into small quantities for refrigeration so they can cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165°F before serving.

For more information, visit or call Southern Seven at 618-634-2297.

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