While Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather and remember what they’re thankful for, it’s also a day to be extra cautious about the many moving parts in the kitchen.
Sabrina Sexton, the program director for culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, tells PEOPLE there are several things to remember while creating your Thanksgiving Day feast.
While the turkey is the star of the show, it’s also one of the biggest concerns for spreading salmonella.
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“If you wash the turkey in the sink, then the sink has turkey juice in it which can spread to other items in the sink or you touch it when it’s raw and then touch something else and contaminate before washing hands,” Sexton says. “You need to be mindful of the fact that if you get juice anywhere or if you don’t wash your hands, you’ll contaminate other foods.”
To avoid contamination, Sexton says to disinfect any surfaces the raw turkey comes into contact with, including the sink and your hands.
Defrosting a turkey
“The best way to defrost the turkey is in the refrigerator,” says Sexton. “An average turkey will take 2 to 3 days to defrost via this method. That way the turkey always be kept to under 40 degrees and out of the danger zone.”
When defrosting, make sure it’s not in container that will leak and put it at bottom of fridge so that no juice drips out of the bag or pan onto other food in the fridge.
While stuffing a turkey adds extra flavor, it’s safest to put the stuffing in a pan after the turkey is done and put back in the oven until it reaches 165 degrees to ensure no undercooked turkey juices remain. You can also, of course, cook it entirely outside of the bird (we have plenty of recipes for that).
“I only recommend doing this outside. The drier your turkey, the safer because the natural moisture in the turkey reacts with the oil and causes oil to bubble,” she says. “To prevent the oil from bubbling over, the pot needs to be twice as deep as the turkey. And remember, a finished turkey has an internal temperature of 165 degrees when it’s fully cooked.”
While many people leave food sit out during their Thanksgiving party, Sexton suggests not letting food be at room temperature for more than two hours.
“Think about ways of only putting food out a little at a time or reheat it periodically,” she says. “Your food should either be in refrigerator below 40 degrees or hot and cooked above 140. One other way to combat this, if you have the space is to set oven on a low temperature and put cooked food in the oven while finishing other preparations to keep food safe and hot, rather than sitting around at room temperature.”
Save the bell sleeves for another time. To avoid having to call the fire department, Sexton says do not wear long sleeves, bracelets or anything that could catch on the side of a pan and pull it off the stove. Also, prepare in advance and store a fire extinguisher under your sink just in case.
If a fire does break out, throw salt or baking soda on it and put a lid on the pot. Do not blow on it!
“If people have time, take your knives to get sharpened before you use them. As much as people fear a sharp edge, it actually is safer because knives tends to slip more when they’re not sharp,” Sexton says.
Heating to a lukewarm temperature just won’t cut it. “As much as we all love a turkey sandwich, in general when reheating leftovers, make sure they’re heated to 165 degrees for safety,” she says. “If you don’t want to use a thermometer, that’s ok, just make sure your food is piping hot, whether you’re using a microwave or oven.”
Cleaning up spills
“If you spill in the oven and it’s smoking or smelling really unpleasant, you can pour salt or baking soda on the spill—in the same way it will put out a fire, it will stop what’s burning/smoking,” Sexton says. “Another tip is to put a cookie sheet or sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom of your oven and then just get rid of it when there are drips.”