Pumpkin and Holiday Table Setting

For more information, contact the author – Cindy Brison, MS, RDN, (cbrison1@unl.edu) Nebraska Extension Educator in Douglas-Sarpy Counties.

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Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather and enjoy each other - not suffer from food poisoning! Here are a few tips to keep your family healthy:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator. It takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey, not including the day you cook it. Therefore, a 20-24 pound turkey would take 6 days to thaw.
  • Do not stuff your turkey. Place stuffing in a separate bowl to cook.
  • USDA recommends an oven temperature no lower than 325°F for cooking a turkey along with using a thermometer to make sure the thickest part of the turkey reads 165°F. A 20-24 pound turkey may take about 5 hours to cook.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils when handling raw turkey. Wash items that have touched raw meat with warm soap and water, or place them in a dishwasher.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria from growing on the food. Eat leftovers in the refrigerator within 3-4 days. Use the freezer to store leftovers for longer periods.
  • Do not over-fill your refrigerator, as it causes it to work too hard and may not keep it at 40 °F or below.
Healthy Holiday Safety Tips
  • Frequently wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.
  • Use a calibrated food thermometer.
  • Clean out your refrigerator the week before Thanksgiving to make room for thawing items and storing leftovers.
  • Store leftovers in shallow containers to decrease cooling time. This prevents food from spending too much time at unsafe temperatures.
  • Do not prepare food when you are ill.
  • Simplify the day by preparing foods the day before.
  • Keep leftovers in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs if the food is traveling home with a guest who lives more than two hours away.


  1. Thanksgiving Food Preparation and Food Safety Tips, Nebraska Extension
  2. Turkey, Foodsafety.gov
  3. Thanksgiving, Foodsafety.gov

Check out lots of additional resources on Thanksgiving!

This article has been peer-reviewed.