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How to properly cook, store your Thanksgiving feast

Posted at 6:13 AM, Nov 25, 2020

PHOENIX — Even though Thanksgiving gatherings may look different this year, many couples and families are still planning to prepare a turkey with all the fixings.

ABC15 talked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to find out how to properly prepare, cook and store your holiday feast.

Meredith Carothers, a food safety expert with the department, said everyone should remember four important steps when cooking:

- CLEAN your hands, utensils and cooking surfaces
- SEPARATE raw food items from those ready to eat
- COOK all foods to proper temperatures (for turkeys, 165° F)
- CHILL leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours

Carothers said food risks on Thanksgiving most often come from not properly thawing a frozen turkey. Setting it out on the counter at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow and pose a risk for foodborne illness. So, what’s the proper way?

- Thaw your frozen turkey in the refrigerator, 24-hours for every 5 lbs.
- If you’re running short on time, a frozen turkey can be submerged in cold water that’s changed out every 30 minutes.
- Worst case scenario: A frozen turkey can still be cooked in the oven but it will take longer to reach the proper temperature

If there’s one temperature to remember, Carothers said, it is that 165-degree mark for poultry. You should use a food thermometer to check the inner most part of the wing, inner most part of the thigh and thickest part of the breast.

What about leftovers?

“You really want to try and use those or freeze them within a four day timeframe to make sure you’re using them while they’re still fresh and before they start to spoil,” she said. You can also freeze leftovers which will keep them edible “indefinitely,” though Carothers said it’s best to defrost and eat them within eight months.

What are the risks of improper cooking? Symptoms can be as mild as gastric distress, nausea and vomiting to hospitalization and, in some cases, even death.

“It’s really not something to mess around with,” she said.

For more information, visit the USDA’s Thanksgiving safety page.