4 Food Safety Mistakes to Avoid this Thanksgiving Featured

Authors: Registered Dietitians

4 Food Safety Mistakes to Avoid this Thanksgiving

(HealthCastle.com) These days, we are all more aware of food safety. Here are 4 common food-safety mistakes people make around Thanksgiving and suggestions of what to do instead.

Mistake #1: Thawing your turkey on the counter

The golden rule is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.  Foods kept in the temperature “danger zone” of 40-140 degree F, or 4-60 degrees C [which includes room temperature] invite bacterial growth than can make you sick.  

What to do instead:

  • Thaw your turkey in its unopened wrapper in the fridge. Ensure your turkey is stored in a container large enough to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Give yourself 1 day of thawing for each 4 pounds of turkey in a fridge set at 4 degrees C.  
  • Larger turkeys will need more time to thaw.  For example, a 12-pound turkey will need ~3 days, while a 20-pound turkey will need ~ 5 days. 

4 Food Safety Mistakes to Avoid this Thanksgiving

If you are running out of time, you can thaw your turkey in water in one of two ways.

  • Under cold running water – clean and sanitize your sink.  Ensure the turkey is still wrapped in its plastic to prevent cross-contamination [more on this next].  Run water on the turkey until it is thawed. 
  • Soak the turkey in cold drinkable water – Using a clean sink, and ensuring the turkey is still wrapped in its plastic, place the turkey breast side down and cover with cold water.  Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey’s surface cold.  Repeat until the turkey is thawed. 
  • When thawing turkey in water, allow 1 hour of defrosting time for each 2.2 pounds of turkey.

Cook your turkey immediately after it has thawed!

Mistake #2: Accidentally allowing raw turkey juices to contact other foods, directly or indirectly!

You touch your turkey, put it in the pan and then touch your taps to wash your hands – boom, your taps are now contaminated with raw turkey juices.  This situation, called cross-contamination occurs when harmful bacteria are spread between people, food, surfaces, cloths, and/or equipment (knives, cutting boards).

What to do instead: 

  • Clean everything that touches your raw or uncooked turkey.
  • Use separate dishes and utensils for raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food.
  • Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry.
  • Clean and sanitize [see recipe below] kitchen surfaces, equipment [cutting boards, knives, thermometers] and kitchen cloths that have come into contact with raw or partially cooked turkey and its raw juices.  Wash your fridge door handles, your tap handles, your appliances; change your kitchen cloths and dishtowels.

To make a sanitizing solution, mix together 1 tsp bleach + 3 cups of water in a labeled spray bottle. 

4 Food Safety Mistakes to Avoid this Thanksgiving

Mistake #3: Deciding the bird is done by looking at its color and by the length of time it has been in the oven

You cannot tell if a turkey is cooked by its color or time alone.  A turkey can be brown on the outside but not cooked on the inside.  You also don’t want to leave your turkey in the oven for too long and then have it be overcooked (which ruins the turkey).

What to do instead:

  • Invest in a thermometer and cook the turkey to 185 Degrees F. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the bird and don’t have it touch the bone.  Remember to clean the thermometer after each temperature check. 

Mistake #4: After your meal, leaving the food on the counter to cool before putting in the fridge

Remember, room temperature is in the “danger zone” (40-140 degrees F or 4 - 60 degrees C).  Keep your hot foods hot and cold foods cold. 

What to do instead:

  • Refrigerate all turkey and leftovers within 2 hours in an uncovered, shallow container (so they cool quickly). Cover the food after it has cooled to refrigerator temperature. 
  • For very hot items, these can first be cooled at room temperature, but need to be refrigerated once they‘ve stopped steaming (within two hours).


Thanksgiving is a time to reconnect with family and friends.  Practicing good food safety will allow you to create memories that focus on delicious food and your time together.

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