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Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

Written on: November 19th, 2011 in Guest Posts

We love delicious local, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving meals, so we asked the head of Delaware’s Division of Public Health, Dr.Karyl Rattay, to provide some tips on food safety for the holidays.  You might also enjoy our previous post on local, fresh Thanksgiving options.


Dr. RattayGuest Post from Dr. Karyl Rattay: I am especially thankful for the time spent with family and friends during the holidays. Like many Delawareans, I often travel with my family to share Thanksgiving dinner with relatives and bring some dishes to pass.

fruit saladGood nutrition, food safety, and preventing illness are as important during the holidays as the rest of the year. For our meal, I find that fruit salad is a refreshing, healthful dish that travels well. When transporting a dish, it’s important that cold foods stay cold, and hot foods stay hot. I make sure that we have plenty of ice packs in our cooler for the ride.

cutting boardWhen cooking at home, I like to use several cutting boards and different knives for bread, fruit and vegetables and meat and poultry. This is a system that helps assure that bacteria from one food do not get passed to another. Glass or plastic cutting boards are a good choice since those surfaces do not absorb liquids from foods, which can spread illness.

I’m also a fan of sterilizing utensils, cutting boards and other cooking items in the dishwasher. It really is the best way to clean these items and prevent food-borne illness.

Clean HandsWe all want our loved ones to stay healthy and happy as we share special times. Unfortunately, health professionals have recognized a link between people gathering for the holidays and an increase in influenza and other respiratory illnesses. That’s why it’s important to get a flu shot and continue practicing preventive measures like hand washing, using hand sanitizer, and covering coughs and sneezes, at home and while visiting.

Our staff at the Division of Public Health’s  Food Protection Program offer these additional tips for preparing the holiday turkey.

Plan your menu before the holiday:

  • If you plan to buy a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1-2 days prior to cooking and make sure it remains refrigerated until ready to cook.
  • Avoid fresh pre-stuffed turkeys because harmful bacteria can grow in the stuffing.
  • Be sure you have a roasting pan large enough to hold your turkey and a food thermometer.

How to thaw:

  • In the refrigerator: Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 -5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
  • Under cold running water (70°F or below): Completely submerge bird under running water in the original wrapper; cook immediately after thawing – do not refreeze.
  • In the microwave: Remove outside wrapping and place on a microwave-safe dish. Do not refreeze or refrigerate after thawing in the microwave.


  • Roast TurkeyUse a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey preferably in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird.
  • Do not use the color of the meat to determine if the bird is thoroughly cooked.  The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.


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