Thanksgiving is closer than you think. If you’re thinking about having a traditional turkey dinner, now is the time to begin planning the big meal. Planning ahead can help ensure that the special meal is successful, safe, and stress-free.
Thanksgiving Planning Checklist
- Select the guests: Decide how many people will be eating, plan your menu, and gather your recipes.
- Clear the fridge: Start using foods that are taking up space in your refrigerator and freezer to make sure you have plenty of room for your turkey, ham, or roast and other dishes.
- Start shopping now: Check your pantry to see what you already have and make a shopping list of needed ingredients. Shopping early for pantry items will reduce stress later.
- Get the thermometers ready: Buy a food thermometer if you don't already have one. A cooked whole turkey is safe at a minimum internal temperature of 165 F throughout the bird and stuffing. If you're thawing the turkey in the refrigerator, we also recommend using a refrigerator thermometer to make sure the temperature is no higher than 40 F.
Answers to Your Turkey Questions
Here are some of the top turkey questions that we answer at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline:
Q. I have a turkey in the freezer from last year. Can I still use it?
A. Yes, go ahead and use it! Because food poisoning bacteria cannot grow in the freezer, so your frozen turkey will be safe to eat. A turkey will keep its top quality a full year in the freezer.
Q. What size bird should I buy?
A. Estimate one pound of turkey for each person. That’s enough for ample portions and leftovers. If you’re having a large party, don’t worry: larger turkeys (over 16 pounds) have more meat per pound. A larger turkey will feed two people per pound.
Q. How far in advance can I buy a fresh turkey?
A. If you want to buy a fresh turkey, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Some grocery stores will let you ‘reserve’ a fresh turkey.
Q. How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey?
The safest way to thaw a turkey is to put it in the refrigerator at a safe temperature (40 F) during thawing. Allow one day for each 5 lbs of weight to thaw the turkey, plus an extra day or two. A twenty pound turkey will take about 4 days to thaw. After it has thawed, it is safe for another two days.
For more information on turkeys, check out these resources on FoodSafety.gov:
If you have any questions about turkeys and Thanksgiving, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.
As a parent, I try to do everything possible to keep my children safe from foodborne bacteria. Kids are surrounded by food all the time, and it's important that they learn food safety basics. However, busy schedules filled with sport practices, music lessons, and other after-school activities limit the time available for kids to learn about fighting bacteria. Parents can use all the help we can get!
That’s why I'm excited about a new (and fun!) booklet and video from the USDA that teach kids about basic steps to food safety – and what happens when you don’t follow those steps.
The booklet and video, Let Me Tell You How Dad Got Sick, feature a boy sharing the story of how his dad experienced foodborne illness. By reading the booklet or watching the video (or doing both), children learn how perishable food becomes unsafe when it’s left out too long. They also learn why it's so important to wash their hands properly with warm water and soap before handling food.
As a bilingual specialist at USDA, I’m also excited that the booklet is available in both Spanish and English, and that the video is available in Spanish with English captioning.
The booklet and video make it easy or children to learn the four simple steps to "Be Food Safe":
- Clean. Wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
- Separate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from foods that won't be cooked.
- Cook. Use a food thermometer to make sure your food reaches a safe internal temperature.
- Chill. Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods within two hours.
Both the booklet and the video are great teaching tools for kids. Teaching children to "Be Food Safe" creates good habits in the kitchen that they will follow as they grow up.
- Booklet in English: Let Me Tell You How Dad Got Sick!
- Booklet in Spanish: ¡Déjame Contarte Cómo Papá Se Enfermó!
- Video: ¡Déjame Contarte Cómo Papá Se Enfermó! (in Spanish with English captions)
For more food safety information for kids, check out these resources:
Even though it’s not an official holiday, Halloween is much beloved by children and adults alike. What could be more fun than trick-or-treating, apple bobbing, or costume parties?
To make sure treats are safe for children, follow these simple steps:
- Snacking: Children shouldn’t snack while they’re out trick-or-treating. Give them a light meal or snack before they head out – don’t send them out on an empty stomach. Urge them to wait until they get home and let you inspect the contents of their “goody bags.”
- Safe treats: Tell children not to accept – and especially not to eat – anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.
- Choking hazards: If you have very young children, be sure to remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.
Bobbing for apples is an all-time favorite Halloween game. Here are a couple of ways to say “boo” to bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
- Reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- Try this new spin on apple bobbing from FightBAC.org: Cut out lots of apples from red construction paper. On each apple, write activities for kids, such as “do 5 jumping jacks.” Place a paper clip on each apple and put them in a large basket. Tie a magnet to a string. Let the children take turns “bobbing” with their magnet and doing the activity written on their apple. Give children a fresh apple for participating.
If your idea of Halloween fun is a party at home, don’t forget these tips:
- Beware of spooky cider! Unpasteurized juice or cider can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. To stay safe, always serve pasteurized products at your parties.
- No matter how tempting, don't taste raw cookie dough or cake batter that contain uncooked eggs.
- “Scare" bacteria away by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings.
- Bacteria will creep up on you if you let foods sit out too long. Don’t leave perishable goodies out of the fridge for more than two hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).
For more on Halloween food safety, check out these great resources:
- Halloween Food Safety How-To (FightBAC!)
- Lucky 13: Tips for a Safe Halloween (FDA)
- Halloween Extra Scary When Kids Have Nut Allergies (Healthfinder.gov)
- Podcast: Halloween or Costume Festivals and Food Safety
Listen to the podcast or read the script (5:30 minutes)