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Thanksgiving do’s and don’ts

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Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

You know what I’m thankful for today?

I’m thankful I wrote a decent article about Thanksgiving food safety last year. So, instead of scrambling last-minute to meet my deadline (a bad habit I hear may be a Dunker thing), I get to recycle an oldie but a goodie for your reading pleasure.

Let’s get back up to speed on making food safety a key ingredient from start to finish this holiday season.

Food safety starts at the grocery store with something as simple as cleaning your shopping cart. Make good use of those sanitary wipes next to the cart corral. My preschooler’s hand washing skills are terrible, and she may have sat in that cart before you grabbed it.

Got a long shopping list? Start with the room-temperature foods. Picking up cold and frozen foods at the end of your shopping trip keeps those foods out of the temperature danger zone—41 degrees F to 135 degrees F—where bacteria like to grow.

When organizing your cart, keep raw protein separate from fresh produce. Keeping the juices of raw protein from dripping on other foods helps avoid the spread of foodborne germs.

When you get to the checkout, you’ll be asked if you’d like your raw protein wrapped separately. Give a resounding yes.

Speaking of protein, let’s talk turkey.

Buying fresh? Make your purchase only one to two days out. This is the length of time a fresh, whole turkey can be safely kept in the fridge before cooking.

Buying frozen? Make your purchase ahead of time, knowing that thawing in the fridge may take a few days. For a 5-12 pound turkey, it will take 1-3 days. For a 12-16 pound turkey, it will take 3-4 days. For a 16-20 pound turkey, it will take 4-5 days.

Once thawed, cook your turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Use a calibrated food thermometer to check three spots to ensure this temperature is reached throughout: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing.

With a safe turkey, you can turn your attention to the all-important don’ts.

Do not leave your prepared dishes out at room temperature. Cold and hot dishes left in the temperature danger zone for two or more hours should be tossed, not eaten or saved for later.

Do not allow friends and family to refill their plates using personal utensils. This is a surefire way of spreading foodborne germs. Instead, provide separate serving utensils for each dish.

Finally, discard or freeze Thanksgiving leftovers after three to four days in the fridge. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, visit

And a happy, healthy, safe Thanksgiving to you and yours.

If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384,, or visit the Gage County Extension website at


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