Keep Thanksgiving Day Safe, Healthy, and Free of Illness

Published on November 17, 2022

DDPHE offer tips to protect yourself, your guests, and your pets over the holiday

The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) offers up important advice to keep your friends and family, including those furry, four-legged members, safe this Thanksgiving Day.

Food Safety

The turkey is often the star of your Thanksgiving dinner, so make sure it gets a round of applause and not a round of food poisoning.

  • Defrost your bird

There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey:

  1. In the refrigerator—the safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the fridge because it will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. Remember, every 5 pounds of meat needs one day to thaw. So, a 14-pound turkey will need three days to thaw completely.
  2. Soaking in cold water—submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, adding new cold water about every 30 minutes. Every pound needs 30 minutes to thaw. So, a 14-pound turkey will need seven hours to thaw completely.
  3. By microwave—ALWAYS follow the instructions in your owner’s manual.
  • Keep clean

Wash your hands with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling food.

Keep all surfaces and utensils clean.

Never handle cooked and raw food together, to avoid cross-contamination.

Prepare food in separate areas. Keep raw meat away from vegetables or other uncooked food.

Don’t wash the turkey. That spreads potential bacteria and can cause cross-contamination. Besides, cooking it to the right temperature (165 degrees) kills any bacteria.

  • Cook immediately after thawing

Cook your bird to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Use a thermometer to test on the innermost part of the thigh and wing—as well, as the thickest part of the breast to ensure it’s well-cooked.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. You can call the pros at 1-888-674-6854 (USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline) with any cooking questions. The hotline is open Thanksgiving Day from 6:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Mountain Standard Time (MST).

  • Store leftovers properly to avoid food poisoning

Refrigerate leftovers quickly, no more than two hours after food has been served. Store food in shallow containers to allow more surface area to increase cooling.

Keep hot food at 140 degrees or above. Keep cold foods at 40 degrees or below. Never let foods sit in the bacteria danger zone (40-140 degrees) for more than two hours.

Turkey leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days. Casseroles and mashed potatoes can go up to five days. After that, put leftovers in the freezer, where they’ll last indefinitely. But for best quality, eat within four months.

Animal Safety

We also want to share safety information for the furry members of your family. You may be tempted to share with them the delightful deluge of holiday foods, but Denver Animal Protection (DAP) says that could lead to your pet’s discomfort and an emergency visit to the vet.

  • Avoid feeding your pets certain foods: Raw dough, raisins or grapes, nuts, onions, chocolate, avocados, and sugar-free candy. These foods either contain ingredients that are toxic to animals or are high in fat and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and potentially pancreatitis. It is safe to offer a small amount of cooked turkey (without skin, gravy, or bones) and vegetables, like sweet potatoes, squash, and green beans.
  • Guard the garbage: Make sure your pet can’t get the plastic wraps, used foil, bones, turkey string, and other temptations from the trash. Ingestion of these items can more than indigestion. Place these indigestible items in a secure, covered trash can.
  • Prevent access to countertops and ovens: Be careful of food you leave on countertops. They may prove too much of a temptation for your dogs and cats. A hot stove and oven may burn them. It might be best to keep your pets out of the kitchen while you prepare your culinary masterpieces.
  • Prepare pets for guests: Get your pet out for exercise before guests arrive. A tired dog is less rambunctious. Also, provide your pet with distractions, like food-stuffed toys or chews, or a toy with catnip, while you visit with friends and family. And if your pet doesn’t care for guests, keep them in a comfortable place with water and a closed door.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends. But if something does go wrong, make sure you’re prepared. Before the festivities begin, locate an urgent care or emergency veterinarian that’ll be open Thanksgiving Day. When minutes count, tracking down help can seem overwhelming.

For these safety tips and others, DDPHE food safety or animal protection staff members will be available for interviews. (This may also help you fill your newscasts and websites over the long holiday.)  Contact us at DDPHE.Communications@denvergov.org to request and schedule interviews.

Happy Thanksgiving to our caring community!