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Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful, spend time with family members and friends and enjoy a scrumptious feast. For many, the centerpiece of the day’s primary meal is a delicious turkey.

Even though preparing a turkey is relatively simple, many people are out of practice because they do so only a few times a year. If you’ll be doing the honors this Thanksgiving, you’ll want to take some steps to ensure safe handling and thorough cooking. Eating undercooked poultry can lead to a number of foodborne illnesses, which can be especially dangerous for people with cancer and others who have weakened immune systems.

Here are some simple but important tips to help you ensure that your Thanksgiving turkey is not only tasty but also safe to eat:

  • Storing a fresh turkey – If properly refrigerated, fresh poultry can be kept for up to two days before cooking. Keep the bird in its original packing and place it in a large pan. This will help to contain any juices that could leak out and contaminate other food items.

  • Storing a frozen turkey – A turkey can be stored in a freezer for several years and still be safe to cook. However, for the best results, poultry should be kept frozen no longer than seven months. Just be sure that you have enough freezer space to store it.

  • Thawing a frozen bird – Proper thawing is essential to food safety. A turkey should be kept at a temperature below 41 degrees Fahrenheit (the point at which most dangerous pathogens cannot survive). The easiest way to maintain a safe temperature is to thaw a turkey in a refrigerator (approximately 24 hours per five pounds).

  • Baking a turkey – Use a food thermometer to check every part of the cooked bird, including the thickest portion of the breast and the innermost areas of the thighs and wings. A minimum temperature of 165 degrees will effectively eliminate salmonella bacteria.

  • Storing leftovers – The key to safely storing turkey leftovers is keeping them below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the meat off the bones and place it in multiple zip lock plastic bags. Place the bags in a single layer on a refrigerator shelf, which will allow the cold air to circulate quickly.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and you have questions about food safety – at Thanksgiving or any other time or year – you are welcome to contact Moffitt Cancer Center with or without a referral. Request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.