Thanksgiving Cooking and Food Safety Tips

— Written By Janice Fields and last updated by
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I love connecting with family during the holidays, sharing cooking traditions with my two lovely daughters, and I thrive on exchanging ideas with them for our upcoming menus. Sharing cooking duties makes the chef’s life much easier. Needless to say, I was thrilled to find my youngest is interested in helping prepare our Thanksgiving meal this year. In addition to pecan pie and sweet potato pudding, she already made a special request for chocolate pie and ham.

This is an enjoyable time of the year but can be quite tiresome if the work is not spread out or shared in some way. I prepare several foods in advance. Our locally grown collards and turnip greens are already prepped and in the freezer, ready for thawing and a final short cooking time. Cornbread (from freshly ground cornmeal) for the stuffing is cooked and in the freezer. The stuffing will be made Tuesday and frozen for Thanksgiving and Christmas – then just thaw and bake. The sweet potato pudding is already frozen and ready to thaw and bake. Cranberries from the freezer will be transformed into cranberry sauce by Wednesday. According to my phone app, homemade cranberry sauce will last seven to ten days when refrigerated at less than 41°F. I don’t think it will last that long.

Yikes!!! Did you buy your turkey yet? Is it too late to get a frozen one? This depends on the size of the turkey and how you thaw it. Thawing turkey on the counter is a definite no-no and can lead to a small army of salmonella or campylobacter bacteria growing on the turkey, the counter, and anything else it touches. This could potentially send your guests to the hospital with food poisoning. Luckily, I am serving a small crowd. Even so, my 12-pound turkey will take about three days to thaw out in the refrigerator, on the bottom shelf, in a container that will prevent anything else from being contaminated with bacteria. No matter how you cook your turkey or chicken, please set your oven no lower than 325°F. Also, cook that bird until the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast reach at least 165°F. Even when there is one of those pop-up temperature indicators on the turkey, using a digital food thermometer is wise. Not only will you know when your food is safely “done,” you may avoid overcooking your food.

After cooking and devouring all the deliciousness, please don’t stop until your leftovers are safely in the refrigerator or freezer. It is best to slice the turkey up and place it in gallon-sized plastic food storage bags, laying them directly on the refrigerator shelf for faster cooling. Also, any large bowls of food will cool faster if moved to shallow containers no more than two to three inches deep. Stainless steel will dissipate heat faster than glass or plastic. Make those leftovers into planned-overs by checking out the vast number of recipes available online.

For more information, please contact Janice Fields, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at, or visit our website at

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