Countdown to a Food-Safe Thanksgiving

Nov 2, 2018

Streamline your preparations by following this schedule to ensure a food-safe holiday.

Saturday, November 3rd: Plan your menu and make your grocery list. Divide the list into two categories: perishable and non-perishable foods. Get an oven-safe food thermometer (if you don't already have one). Using it is the only way to ensure that meat is fully cooked. 

Saturday, November 10th: Shop for non-perishable food items, such as canned soups and broth, baking supplies, and seasonings such as spices and dried herbs. Getting a frozen turkey? Buy it now and put it in your home freezer.

Saturday, November 17th: Shop for all your perishable food items, except for a fresh turkey (if that is your bird of choice). Use the Foodkeeper app to find out the best way to store your groceries until you need them.

Wednesday, November 14th: Is your frozen turkey 20-24 pounds? Put the bird in the fridge today so it will be safely thawed and ready to roast on Thanksgiving. If it weighs less than 20 pounds, use this Safe Thawing guide to find out when your turkey should go from the freezer into the fridge to start thawing.

Monday, November 19th: You can start making side dishes today. Store them in the refrigerator, and they will still be good on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 20th: Today is the day to purchase that fresh turkey. Store it in a dish on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator so the fresh juices don't drip on other foods. USDA does not recommend buying a pre-stuffed turkey.

Wednesday, November 21st: If you haven't defrosted your turkey, use the cold water thawing method to ensure it's thawed for Thanksgiving. It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state, but it will take at least 50 percent longer than for a fully thawed turkey.

Planning to stuff your turkey? DON'T mix the stuffing ingredients or stuff your turkey tonight. It's ok to prepare the wet and dry stuffing ingredients ahead of time, but refrigerate them separately. Be safe by waiting to mix all ingredients on Thanksgiving Day just before you put the turkey in the oven. 

Thanksgiving Day! Thursday, November 22nd: Use your food thermometer to be certain the turkey is completely done. You can't tell just by the color. Your bird is not safe until it reaches 165° F. Check the temperature in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh. Check the temperature of the stuffing, too!

Don't let leftovers linger on the table. Place all perishable food in shallow storage containers and put them in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.

Monday, November 26th: Today is the last day to eat those leftovers or put them in the freezer.

Adapted from: The Food-Safe Path to Thanksgiving and Beyond by Marianne Gravely, USDA, Nov 03, 2016.

By Patti C. Wooten Swanson
Author - Nutrition,  Family, and  Consumer Science Advisor - Emeritus