Health & Safety

November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving food preparation and safety tips

Staff Sergeant Jennifer Maddox
66th Medical Squadron Public Health

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.  — The holiday season is here and the 66th Medical Squadron Public Health office would like to remind base personnel how to safely thaw, prepare and cook a holiday meal. Be mindful that improper storing and cooking may result in food-borne illness that can damper the holidays.

Tips when shopping for and storing a turkey:

– It is best to buy the turkey one or two days before cooking it.
– Bag the turkey and keep separate from fresh produce when storing.
– Keep the turkey in the freezer if bought earlier in the month.

When storing in the refrigerator, do so at a safe temperature.  Food should remain either below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees these temperatures.
Once the turkey begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply rapidly.

Three safe ways to thaw food:

– Defrost the turkey in the refrigerator at 40 degrees for 24 hours for every four or five pounds before cooking it. Be sure to put the turkey in a container that will prevent the juices from contaminating other foods.
– Submerge the turkey in its original package in a pan of cold water that covers the turkey. Change the water every 30 minutes and allow 30 minutes of thawing for every pound.
– Remove packaging and keep the turkey in a microwave safe pan. Thaw in a microwave oven and then place in the oven to cook.


– Bacteria from raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, work surfaces and other foods.  Make sure to clean any item touched by raw poultry to prevent cross-contamination.
– Wash hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds before handling.
– Make sure work areas and food contact surfaces are clean and sanitized.
– Use a cutting board for meats and a separate cutting board for fruits or vegetables.
– Keep raw foods away from vegetables and side dishes that do not need to be cooked.
– Cooking times vary based on size of turkey, see chart below.
– Use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the turkey reaches a minimum of 165°F.  The food “danger zone” is between 40 to 140 degrees.

Once the turkey is completely thawed, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees. Place the turkey in a roasting pan two inches to two-and-a-half inches deep, breast-side up on a wire rack. A food thermometer must reach 165 degrees before the turkey is ready to eat. When checking the internal temperature, check at the center of the stuffing as well as meaty portion of the breast, thigh and wing joint.
Allow the turkey to stand for at least 20 minutes prior to removing the stuffing and carving.

Follow these cooking times for unstuffed turkeys (in hours) at 325 degrees:

Eight to 12 pounds  2 ¾ to 3
12 to 14 pounds   3 to 3 ¾
14 to 18 pounds   3 ¾ to 4 ¼
18 to 20 pounds   4 ¼ to 4 ½
20 to 24 pounds   4 ½ to 5

Follow these cooking times for stuffed turkeys (in hours) at 325 degrees:

Eight to 12 pounds  3 to 3 ½
12 to 14 pounds   3 ½ to 4
14 to 18 pounds   4 to 4 ¼
18 to 20 pounds   4 ¼ to 4 ¾
20 to 24 pounds   4 ¾ to 5 ¼

Storing leftovers:

– Store leftovers within two hours after serving.
– Use shallow storage containers.
– Store leftovers in the refrigerator if planning on eating within three days. Keep food in freezer for longer storage time. See storage times chart at:
– All leftovers should be reheated to 165°F.

For information on other methods for cooking a turkey, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).  The hotline is open on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but closed on other federal government holidays.
Additional information on food safety is available at and

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