Avoid the Thanksgiving ‘danger zone’ with these 5 food safety tips

Be sure to thaw, cook, clean and store properly.

Thanksgiving can be so fun and celebratory that sometimes we might forget about food safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne illness results in about 48 million sicknesses in the U.S. annually.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is the public health regulatory agency responsible for the safety of meat, poultry and egg products. The agency offers guidance at on the four steps to food safety — clean, separate, cook and chill — in addition to advice on how to thaw and brine turkeys safely.

This year, the USDA also offers these 5 tips on how to deal with leftovers.

Remember the Two-Hour Rule: Refrigerate or freeze perishable items within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator. After two hours, food enters the “Danger Zone” (between 40 F and 140 F), where bacteria can multiply quickly.

Use shallow containers: Break down your Thanksgiving meal into smaller portions in shallow containers. This keeps the temperature of the food more even.

Freeze or consume within four days: The Monday after Thanksgiving is the last day you can safely eat leftovers. If you want to keep leftovers longer, freeze them within that four-day period. You can freeze food indefinitely, though the quality may decrease after 6 months.

Reheat safely: Make sure your reheated leftovers reach 165 F. Measure this with a food thermometer. Bring sauces and gravies to a rolling boil on the stove to reheat them safely.

Microwave safely: Microwaves have cold spots, so arrange your food items evenly in a microwave-safe dish, cover, and rotate for even heating. Check the internal temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer after allowing a resting time.

The USDA offers a Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). You can also email to reach a food safety expert or chat live at from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day.

Erin Booke, Food and Entertainment Editor @erinbooke

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