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Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without a turkey or ham dinner. Who doesn’t enjoy the smell of it cooking, the taste during dinner, and the leftovers? Unfortunately, all of the enjoyment can be ruined by getting sick. The good news is that there are ways to prevent foodborne illness from happening by how you handle the food during thawing, preparation, cooking, and storage.


There are three safe ways to thaw frozen meats:

· Refrigerator – Plan at least 24 hours for every four to five pounds of meat. Leave it in its original package and place it in a pan to catch juices.

· Cold Water — Plan at least 30 minutes for every pound of meat. Wrap meat securely to prevent water from coming in contact with it. Place the meat in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.

· Microwave — Consult the owner’s manual for size of meat, time needed, and power level to use for thawing. Remove any packaging. Use a microwave-safe dish to catch juices. Cook immediately after thawing.

Meat can be safely cooked from the frozen state, but it will take at least 50 percent longer. To avoid having to thaw a turkey, purchase a fresh turkey only one to two days before and store in the refrigerator.


Before preparation, wash your hands and any surfaces you use to prepare the meat. Work quickly to get it ready for cooking without changing to other tasks. When the meat is in the oven, wash all utensils, dishes, and surfaces that came in contact with the meat, your hands, or the surfaces that were used to prepare the meat.


Use an oven setting of at least 325° Fahrenheit (F) to roast your meat. Check the temperature of the meat to ensure they are safe to eat. Turkey should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. (Most people prefer turkey cooked to a higher temperature, usually 170°F for breast and 180°F for thighs, so it’s no longer pink, and juices are clear.) Many hams are precooked. Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F and all others to 165°F. To measure temperature, stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching any bone, fat, or pan.


Throw out turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, or any other perishable food left at room temperature for more than two hours. Cool leftovers quickly by dividing them into shallow containers and placing in the refrigerator or freezer immediately. Leftover ham, turkey and stuffing should be eaten within three to four days, gravy within one to two days. Frozen leftovers need to be used within two to six months for best quality.

For more food safety tips, check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Fact Sheets at

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