Thanksgiving Meal

According to National Restaurant Association research, nearly one in 10 consumers will enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant while 4% plan to purchase the whole meal, or part of a meal (9%) from a restaurant to serve at home.

For those consumers planning to cook their Thanksgiving meal at home, our Association food-safety experts share seven important tips:

  1. Thaw your turkey in the fridge. While you can thaw a frozen turkey under running water or in the microwave (never at room temperature), the best way is in the refrigerator. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package and plan in advance as thawing can take several days depending on the size of the bird.  
  2. Store raw turkey away from ready-to-eat food. Cover raw turkey and store it in a leak-proof container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Keep it away from foods that are ready to eat, such as appetizers, desserts and salads, to avoid cross-contamination.  
  3. Wash your hands between every task. A major step and critical when moving to new prep tasks such as preparing ready-to-eat foods after handling raw meat or poultry.  
  4. Clean and sanitize your work areas. Before and after preparing your raw turkey, properly clean and sanitize the prep areas and counter surfaces before preparing other food. Remember to clean and sanitize cutting boards prior to using them for a new task.
  5. Cook your turkey to 165°F. Use a properly calibrated meat thermometer to check that your turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165°F. Insert the thermometer up to the dimple indent on the thermometer stem into the thickest part of the thigh where it meets the breast. Don’t let the tip hit bone.  
  6. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Keep all food items outside the “temperature danger zone” (41°F to 135°F). That means keeping cold foods below 41°F and hot foods above 135°F. Don’t leave them out for service more than two hours. Clear room in your refrigerator in advance of the holiday.
  7. Safely reheat leftovers. Store leftovers separately in clean, sealable, leak-proof containers and reheat hot items to 165°F when you’re ready for round two.

“Whether cooking at home or professionally, these basic principles are essential to a safe, enjoyable holiday experience,” said William Weichelt, the Association’s director of food safety and industry relations, ServSafe food-safety training and certification. For more great food safety practices, see how the pros do it at