LSU AgCenter Nutritionist Offers Strategy for Safe Thanksgiving Meal

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  4/19/2005 10:28:31 PM

News You Can Use For November 2004

To make sure your Thanksgiving feast is delicious and safe, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames outlines a five-point strategy.

Plan ahead.

If you shop ahead, you’ll probably want to purchase a frozen turkey. If you’re purchasing a turkey within one to two days of cooking it, you can buy a fresh turkey.

Frozen turkeys should be thawed before to cooking. Turkeys, along with all raw and frozen meat and poultry products, must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. Any harmful bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again unless proper thawing methods are used.

There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey or other food: in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F or lower, in cold water and in the microwave. When thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey. When thawing in cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound, and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. When thawing in the microwave, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing, because some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook during microwave thawing.


Make hand washing a frequent activity. Everyone who will help prepare the meal needs to begin with clean hands. After touching raw meat or poultry, wash hands for 20 seconds in hot, soapy water. After hand washing, children can help by gathering cooking pans and utensils and bringing food from the refrigerator to the counter. At this time, be sure utensils, plates, work surfaces, etc., have been thoroughly cleaned.


Home food safety is just as important as the precautions taken by manufacturers and retailers before the food reaches the home. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods and foods that will not be cooked, such as salad fixings and bread, to avoid cross-contamination.

Although children may want to help prepare a vegetable salad or butter the rolls, be sure those foods are kept away from the raw turkey. Raw meat and poultry products may contain harmful bacteria, so it is important that the juices from raw meat and poultry products do not come into contact with food that will be eaten without cooking. Also, never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat or poultry.


Using a food thermometer could make your turkey taste better, because you won’t overcook it trying to make it safe. A food thermometer is the only way to make sure the turkey has reached a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria.

Using a food thermometer is easy enough that children can help. Be sure to get the turkey to a safe position on the stovetop or in the oven so that nobody is burned from the hot cooking pan or juices. Insert the food thermometer into the turkey so children can read the temperature.

Reames says to follow temperature guidelines to ensure a safe turkey. Cook whole turkey until it reaches 180 degrees F between the breast and the innermost part of the thigh. Cook turkey breast to 170 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast. Cook turkey thighs and wings until they reach 180 degrees F in the thickest part of the meat. Cook stuffing, cooked alone or in the bird, to 165 degrees F in its center. If stuffing inside a turkey has not reached 165 degrees F, continue cooking the turkey until it does.


To keep foodborne bacteria from growing, refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours. Cut turkey into smaller pieces. Slice the breast meat. Wings and legs may be left whole. Place turkey into shallow containers for storing in the refrigerator. Children can help by clearing the table and placing food into shallow containers for the refrigerator or freezer. Reheat leftovers to a hot and steamy 165 degrees F.

For information on related nutrition, family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site:  For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929, or

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