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Cooking up safe eats for Thanksgiving Dinner, 5 easy steps


Thanksgiving is fast approaching and it’s my favorite holiday of the year. At my family dinner we are never short on homemade chicken noodles (my contribution) mashed potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, homemade bread and of course pumpkin pie. Growing up on a pig farm we always serve a pork loin for Thanksgiving dinner but as we all know turkey is traditional. Making large batches of food or transporting food for a large family can come with a risk to those eating. Follow these five tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable dinner.

Step 1: Use a refrigerator set at 41 degrees F or below to thaw your family turkey.

There are four approved thawing methods; refrigeration, cold running water (70 degrees), during the cooking process or microwave for immediate use. However for turkey we recommend in the refrigerator following the instructions listed on the tag.

Step 2: All food should be stored in clean and sanitized containers that are leak proof and sealable.

When thawing in the refrigerator place food in a leak proof container on the bottom shelf away from any other food. Turkey must be on the bottom shelf so it won’t leak on other food that will not be cooked to a proper temperature.

Step 3: Cook to 165 degrees F.

Use a bimetallic stem thermometer (traditional meat thermometer) to measure the temperature. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and thigh guaranteeing temperature has reached 165 degrees. If you have stuffed the turkey insert thermometer through rib cage into stuffing and see that it has reached 165 degrees.

Step 4: Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

Plan ahead and prepare cold dishes first and store them in the refrigerator. Make sure you are preparing hot dishes according to their cook time. If you are transporting a hot dish keep it in a warmer or arrive early and bake it at the dinner site. Remember to keep cold dishes on ice if transporting.

Step 5: Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F.

The second best part of Thanksgiving is getting to have the meal again the next day. Safely cool food to 41 degrees within 2 hours. Reheat to 165 degrees when ready to eat.

Bonus Step 6: Keeping your family safe from COVID-19

Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness not gastrointestinal like other foodborne viruses. While it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that the virus is on, and then touching your face, this is not known to be the main route of transmission.

In order to keep you family safe this Thanksgiving remember to wash your hands for 20 seconds, stay home and don’t prepare food when sick. Finally, use the four steps: clean, separate, cook, chill, when preparing food.


Monica Nagele is the Montgomery County Extension Educator and County Extension Director, Health and Human Science. She is a registered dietitian. The Extension office is at 400 Parke Ave., Crawfordsville; 765-364-6363. She may be reached by email at mwilhoit@purdue.edu.


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