It’s that time of year again–home cooks everywhere are preparing delicious feasts for their friends and family. Turkey. Gravy. Stuffing. Delicious!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to cook with your children. Whether they lend a hand tearing up herbs for the turkey, or mixing up ingredients for pumpkin pie, there are a lot of fun ways they can help you prepare your feast.

Although Thanksgiving is full of family and fun, it’s also a good time to review some basic food safety. The holidays are a busy time, and no one wants to fall ill during one of the happiest times of the year. These USDA food safety tips are sure to keep you and your family healthy for this holiday, and the ones to come.

Cooking Temperature

A cooking thermometer is an essential kitchen tool to ensure that your food is reaching the proper temperature before consumption. Thermometers can be found in several varieties, including digital and analog. Both work equally well if you use them correctly and consistently. To measure the temperature of a food, stick your thermometer in the thickest part of the product. Make sure you avoid the bones, as this can give you a false reading. Wait several seconds until the temperature stops rising and remains at a constant number. Once your food is cooked to the proper temperature, be sure to let it rest so the juices can redistribute before cutting. The internal temperature of the food will continue to rise for a few minutes after cooking, which is called carry-over cooking. Common minimum temperatures are listed below.

Roasts: Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.8 ºC).

Ground meats: Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F (71.1 ºC).

Poultry: Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C).

An important note for Thanksgiving in particular is to check the temperature of your stuffing as well! Lots of folks like to stuff their turkey with stuffing, which is absolutely fine, as long as it is also cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F. This ensures all harmful bacteria from contact with the raw turkey has been destroyed. Also, be sure to wash your thermometer with warm soapy water after each use!

Holding Temperature

Once you’ve done all that hard work cooking your food, make sure you’re holding and serving it at a safe temperature!

  • Hot food should be held at 140 °F (60 °C) or warmer.
  • Cold food should be held at 40 °F (4.4 ºC) or colder.
  • When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often.
  • Perishable food should not be left out more than 2 hours at room temperature—1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F (32.2 ºC).

Leftovers

Leftovers are probably the best part of any Thanksgiving feast. Turkey soup and cold turkey sandwiches are delicious ways to use your leftover food bits–just make sure that you reheat them properly.

  • Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours—1 hour if the temperature was above 90 °F (32.2 ºC).
  • Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.
  • Use cooked leftovers within 4 days.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 °F (73.9 °C).

Hopefully these tips help keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy this holiday season. Make sure you take this opportunity to share some cooking traditions with your kiddos, and maybe make some new ones as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

All cooking tips were sourced from USDA’s “Basics for Handling Food Safety”. For more food safety tips check out USDA.gov.

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