Thanksgiving is just two days away, so whether you’ve been tasked with making an entire Thanksgiving meal or just preparing a few dishes, there are four simple steps to food safety that everyone should follow: clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Clean your hands and kitchen surfaces often when preparing food. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water. Cooking surfaces, including utensils, cutting boards, and countertops, should be washed with hot, soapy water. This is especially important after working with raw turkey and before touching food that has already been prepared. Make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before preparing, but don’t wash your turkey because it could contaminate the surrounding cooking areas.

Separation can prevent cross-contamination of already prepared foods from raw foods. Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for cooked or ready-to-eat food, like salads and veggie platters. Separation is also important at the grocery store. Make sure to separate raw food, like your turkey, from food that will not be cooked, like fruits and vegetables. Lastly, separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from foods that are already cooked or foods that will not be cooked.

Cooking food to a safe temperature ensures all harmful bacteria are killed. Using a thermometer is the only way to tell if a food is done. The thermometer must be inserted into the thickest part of the meat to make sure it has reached the minimum cooking temperature. For turkey, insert the thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and thickest part of the breast. The turkey is fully cooked when the thermometer reaches 165°F. Make sure you clean your thermometer with hot, soapy water after using it.

Finally, while you will likely be enjoying time with friends and family after your feast, make sure you prevent illness-causing bacteria from growing on your leftovers by refrigerating or freezing them within 2 hours. If you don’t think you can get through all those leftovers in a few days, it’s best to freeze them. When ready to eat the frozen food, thaw it in the refrigerator and not on the counter top.

A special note about thawing your turkey…

all food, including turkeys, should be thawed in the refrigerator . Visit our Food Safety & Environmental Services Program for more food safety information and make sure to be food safe this Thanksgiving!