Dealing with Unwanted Holiday Guests – Avoiding Food Poisoning


Bring the turkey to temperature using a thermometer.

There are many hazards to watch for during the holidays, and while most of us think about drunk drivers and being trampled at the big box store, food safety can affect all of us.

If we are the one preparing the food, we are the one under pressure to get everything done at the time promised, especially if people are hungry, and may take short-cuts during preparation. Or, we may want to just relax after dinner and put the food away “later.” While this may be the fast-track to lose weight post-Thanksgiving, some people may have other plans for their holiday weekend instead of recovering from the food poisoning they got from the holiday meal.

One of my favorite cooking tools is my instant read thermometer. I don’t go by color or pressure (though sometimes a toothpick works, if I am baking). The instant read thermometer is my go-to tool during cooking. I also have a handy electronic meat thermometer that I use so my meat doesn’t become over-cooked and I don’t have to keep opening the over-door.

While it is likely too late to tell you not to leave the turkey out on the counter to defrost it, or even in the garage (in some places this could be okay, though it isn’t recommended) or inside the dryer for the quicker defrost (still not recommended, since you may have to explain this to the repair-person unless you used the drying rack). You can call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line® at 1-800-BUTTERBALL for help in this issue.


  • Cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F. While your turkey may have come with one of those cute, red pop-up indicators, it is better to use a food or meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey.
  • Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. If you have stuffed your turkey, the center of the stuffing must also reach 165°F. (If your bird has reached the 165°F, you can remove the stuffing and cook/bake it separately until it reaches 165°F on its own so your bird doesn’t get over-cooked and dry.)
  • Some meat, even in poultry, may still be pink, but it is safe to eat as soon as all parts of the bird reach at least 165°F.


While we like to linger at the table, relax in the living room, or even go outside and play, put off doing the dishes is okay, but putting off clearing the food away is not a good idea.

We need to refrigerate promptly! There are three numbers we need to remember:

  1. 2 hours: Refrigerate cooked foods, including the turkey, stuffing, potatoes and everything else within 2 hours after cooking. Keep track of how long foods have sat on the table and discard anything there two hours or more. To help extend this 2 hour serving time, put things out at the last-minute, and only put out as much as necessary.
  2. 3-4 days: Place leftovers in shallow containers and use within 3–4 days. Come Monday night, if you still have any Thanksgiving leftovers, guess what’s for dinner? After dinner that night, toss it.
  3. 165°F: Reheat all of your leftovers to minimum internal temperature of 165°F. You often hear “140°F” for food safety, this is the temperature for the first go round. For reheating leftovers, it’s higher…

One of the other great tools you can use is the freezer. If you realize that there is just too much food to plow through in your four-day window – ull out the ziptop bags and markers (to note the date) and freeze your turkey, potatoes and other holiday faves for next week, next month, or next April.

Happy Thanksgiving and hoping it is bacteria free!


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