Keeping Thanksgiving feast safe, from freezer to leftovers

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Families come together to share Thanksgiving meals, but they shouldn't share post-holiday food poisoning.

The USDA has some food safety tips to prevent the problems.

1. Don't wash the turkey.

(Psst, 68% of of the public says they do follow this dangerous practice.)

Turkey and other poultry can contain salmonella and campylobacter bacteria.

Cooking it right will kill those bacteria, however, washing the bird can spread them all over the kitchen - bacteria can land up to three feet away.


2. To defrost a frozen turkey, use the refrigerator, the cold-water method or the microwave. DO NOT LEAVE IT OUT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE.

For the fridge method, allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds.

So, if you don't already have it in the fridge, put it in NOW - and be prepared to augment it with the cold water method.

For cold water thawing: Thaw breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely.

Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled.

Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per pound.

For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to your microwave's owner's manual.

3. Get a meat thermometer. They cost a few dollars at the market or big box store, but could save you a bout of sickness.

It's the only sure way to make sure your turkey is safely cooked. Pay no attention to old saws about cooking till juices run clear, or till the flesh has a certain spring.

Only roast a thoroughly thawed turkey, and check it with the thermometer in 3 places: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Your thermometer should register 165 F in all three of these places.

4. Don't store food outside, even if it's cold.

First, animals can get into it.

Second, you have no way to control the temperature.

Even on an icy cold day, sunlight on plastic, glass, or metal containers can raise the temperature inside above 40 degrees, and right into the danger zone.

If the fridge is overloaded, keep it in a cooler with ice.

5. For leftovers, remember the 2-2-4 rules.

Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of coming out of the oven.

Store them in containers 2 inches deep or less.

And, after 4 days, toss the leftovers.

If you want to keep turkey longer, you can put it into freezer bags or airtight containers.

And use them within 4 months.

After then, they'll be safe, but can dry out or lose flavor.

If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert.

Last November, they answered more than 3,000 calls about Thanksgiving dinner.