When it comes to Thanksgiving, most people really look forward to all of the delicious food that comes with the holiday.  The turkey, ham, candied yams, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie really draw in the crowds and can even lure estranged loved ones back to the table.

For this reason, it’s so important to protect the positive memories we associate with our meal rather than have it replaced by the horror of food-borne illness.  When feeding your family this Thanksgiving, follow these simple suggestions for keeping everyone healthy.

Store Raw Meat Properly

If you bought a fresh turkey or have any raw meat in your refrigerator, always store it on the lowest shelf possible to avoid any of the raw juices spilling on to other foods and spreading bacteria that can lead to food-borne illness. Some people put the meat in a roasting or lasagna pan to contain leaks. Clean any spills up immediately to avoid cross-contamination.

Safe Thawing

One of the most popular questions surrounding the holidays revolves around thawing the turkey.  Currently, there are only three methods recommended by the Food Safety and Inspection Service – in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. It is not safe to thaw your turkey at room temperature on the kitchen counter.

Clean Surfaces

When you are rinsing, seasoning or loading your turkey into the oven, it’s very possible that juices from the raw meat have contaminated your sink, kitchen counter or stove top.  Make sure you adequately clean these areas, along with any cutting boards and tools that may have been used, before continuing to prepare your meal.

Use a Thermometer

In order to be safe, an internal temperature of 165 F must be achieved.  This is necessary for both the turkey and any stuffing in the bird’s cavity.  Make sure you stuff the turkey loosely so that the heat can be properly distributed.  If in doubt, review the Federal Food Safety guidelines for roasting a turkey.

Follow the Two-Hour Rule

After everyone has enjoyed their meal, plan to start packing up leftovers immediately.  Any remaining food should be stored in the refrigerator (or freezer) within two hours of being prepared. Stuffing should be removed from the turkey’s cavity and stored separately.

Thanksgiving is a time to be appreciative of the blessings we have.  Take the extra measures to keep everyone safe and healthy so that the focus can remain on being together.