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Preventing food poisoning: CDC offers tips for a safe Turkey Day

By Jake Beardslee · November 22, 2023

The CDC provided updated advice on safely preparing turkey for Thanksgiving, emphasizing proper storage, handling, cooking temperatures, and leftovers storage to prevent foodborne illnesses.  RDNE Stock project/Pexels

As Thanksgiving approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published updated guidelines on how to safely prepare your holiday turkey. Proper storage, thawing, handling, cooking, and storing of leftovers are critical to prevent foodborne illnesses.

The CDC warns that “raw turkey can contain Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, and other germs” that can cause sickness. To mitigate risk, they advise storing frozen turkey at 0°F or below, thawing in the refrigerator over 24 hours per 4-5 pounds, or in cold water changed every 30 minutes. “Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter,” they emphasize.

When handling raw turkey, the guidelines state you should “wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after,” use separate cutting boards for raw turkey and other foods, never place cooked foods on surfaces that held raw turkey, and wash all surfaces that contacted raw turkey.

The CDC cautions against washing raw turkey to prevent splashing bacteria around the kitchen. “Federal agencies have recommended not washing turkey or chicken since 2005,” the guidelines note.

For optimal safety, it’s best to cook stuffing separately, using a food thermometer to ensure it reaches 165°F. If cooked inside the turkey, the guidelines say to “wait 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before removing the stuffing” to allow further cooking.

The CDC says to roast turkey at 325°F or higher and use a food thermometer to verify it reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast, between the body and thigh, and between the body and wing. Leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours and eaten within 3-4 days.