Have a Safe Thanksgiving by Taking Steps to Protect Against Foodborne Illness

Public Health Offers Food Safety Preparation Recommendations

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health would like families to enjoy a safe and healthy Thanksgiving holiday feast by taking steps to avoid foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning. Raw or undercooked meats, including turkey, chicken, beef, and lamb, and food kept at unsafe temperatures can contain bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, or E. coli, that cause diarrhea and other health problems. To ensure a safe and healthy holiday feast, follow these food preparation recommendations and serving tips:

Defrosting Turkey

The best practice is to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator:

  • Place frozen turkey in its original wrapper in the refrigerator (40° F or below). Make sure no turkey juice can drip down onto other foods.
  • Allow approximately 24 hours of thaw time per 5 pounds of turkey.
  • After thawing, keep the turkey refrigerated for only one to two days before cooking.

Another option is to thaw a turkey in cold water:

  • Make sure the turkey is in leakproof wrapping before placing it in cold (not hot or warm) water and change the water every 30 minutes.
  • Allow about 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound of turkey.
  • Cook immediately after thawing.

Other safety tips:

  • Do not thaw frozen pre-stuffed turkeys before cooking.
  • Do not refreeze a turkey that has been thawed.

Cooking a Turkey

Oven-roasting a whole turkey:

  • Set the oven to at least 325°F. Use a food thermometer to make sure it cooks to 165°F or higher. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, but not against the bone.


  • We do not recommend stuffing a whole turkey. This increases the risk of cross-contamination. Consider cooking stuffing separately in a casserole dish.
    • While we do not recommend stuffing a turkey with uncooked stuffing and cooking both together, we recognize many traditional recipes call for doing both together. If you are cooking a turkey with stuffing, using a food thermometer is essential to make sure the center of the stuffing is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached this temperature, possibly resulting in foodborne illness.
    • Do not stuff the turkey the night before cooking it. Bacteria can multiply in the stuffing while refrigerated.
    • If the stuffing uses raw meat, poultry, or shellfish, these ingredients should be cooked before stuffing the turkey to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria that may be in the raw ingredients.

Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys:

  • Cook from frozen by following package directions.

Deep frying a turkey:

  • Know the dangers of deep frying a turkey. Turkey fryers can easily start a fire, and the hot oil can be a burn hazard.
  • Only use your turkey fryer outdoors on a sturdy, level surface away from anything that can burn.
  • Keep children and pets at least three feet from the fryer to protect against burn injuries from the oil or the fryer.

Pre-cooked turkey dinners:

  • Eat within two hours or refrigerate dishes separately, then reheat to a temperature of at least 165°F.

Additional Food-Handling Tips

  • Good hand hygiene. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw food, and after using the restroom.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating or cutting into them.
  • Food preparation.
    • Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods such as fruits and vegetables. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, knives, and platters for these foods.
    • Wash cutting boards, utensils, and platters after preparing each food item.
    • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a full boil when reheating.
  • Serving and storing food.
    • Keep hot foods hot. Use chafing dishes and heating devices or keep foods in the oven at a temperature to ensure they remain at 135°F or above.
    • Keep cold foods cold at 40°F or below and refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Throw out foods that should have been kept cold but were left out for more than two hours.
    • Eat cooked leftovers within three to four days.