Auburn University offers Thanksgiving food safety tips

Published: November 23, 2015
Updated: November 30, 2015
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Not every Thanksgiving dinner table will look the same, with a range of main dishes that can include classic turkey to ham to lasagna. But safety should be a constant in every Thanksgiving feast. Because holiday meals usually take longer to prepare and serve than everyday meals, bacteria have more opportunities to sneak in and ruin a fun family gathering.

The Auburn University Food Systems Institute, AUFSI, has a few rules to help ensure the safety of your Thanksgiving dinner. There are four key words to remember:

  • Clean
  • Separate
  • Cook
  • Chill

Keeping things clean is important to reduce the illness-causing bacteria that can survive on your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and food preparation areas. Unless you wash these areas right way, you could spread bacteria to your food and your family.

After you’ve thoroughly cleaned your hands and cooking/preparation surfaces, it’s important to keep food items separate to prevent spreading illness-inducing bacteria from raw meat and eggs to ready-to-eat foods. Be sure to keep raw meat, including poultry and seafood, and eggs separate from other items in your grocery cart and when you get home, separate these items from the other food in your fridge. Also, use a different cutting board for produce than the one for raw meat and eggs.

Use a food thermometer to ensure you cook food to the right temperature. Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply rapidly in the temperature “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 degrees F. Don’t rely on the color or texture to tell you when food is finished cooking. When microwaving food, make sure you cook it to 165 degrees F or higher.

Finally, cold temperatures slow the growth of bacteria that cause illness, so it is important to chill food promptly and properly. Store leftovers in clean, shallow containers within two hours of cooking (or serving, for ready-to-eat, perishable foods).

For more Thanksgiving food safety information, as well as dinner planning and serving tips, recipes, and more, visit the AUFSI Thanksgiving website at