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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

Countdown to a safe Thanksgiving

It is early in the morning on Wednesday and the clock is ticking for the big meal on Thursday. You are just starting out to get ready within 36 hours.

Can you save this holiday feast?

Yes. Here are some safe and sure-fire ways to beat the clock and be ready to host the safest feast by 4 PM Thanksgiving Day!


8:00 AM / Planning and shopping

Make your list based on the menu. Don't forget to include a meat thermometer.

10:00 AM / Thawing

Plan out 30 minutes per pound to defrost the frozen turkey. Place the frozen turkey bag in the sink under cool running water OR cover with cool water and change every 15 minutes.

1:00 PM / Vegetables preparation

Clean and cut raw vegetables as needed. Refrigerate.

2:00 PM / Stuffing

Prepare dry stuffing ingredients and place in covered container. Do not combine dry and wet ingredients. Keep the ingredients such as margarine, butter, oysters, cooked celery, broth, sausage, etc. in the refrigerator.

3:00 PM / Baking

Prepare and refrigerate bakery items such as pumpkin pies as prepared.

7:00 PM / Bird cleaning

After removing parts, wash the turkey inside and outside with cold water and drain well. Refrigerate promptly on a clean platter and cover it. WASH hands, utensils, counter tops and any other item that have been exposed to the raw turkey. Shake the temptation out of your mind to roast the turkey overnight. Slow cooking is not safe.



8:00 AM / Bird stuffing

Combine ingredients, preheat the oven and start stuffing. Loose stuffing will help in thorough cooking of the bird. Bake remainder of stuffing in a separate pan as needed.

Insert meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh muscle without touching the bone. Cover turkey with a loose tent of aluminum foil. With the breast side up, place turkey in the oven. Opening the door frequently prolongs cooking time so avoid opening the doors.

WASH hands, utensils, counter tops and any other item that have been exposed to turkey.

Estimate times for roasting a turkey: 15 to 18 minutes per pound for unstuffed turkey and 18 to 24 minutes for stuffed turkey. For example, a 20-pound, stuffed turkey will take approximately 6 hours and thirty minutes.

10:00 AM / Side dishes preparation

Refrigerate all prepared items.

3:00 PM / Cooking vegetables and other preparation

Check turkey for doneness. The meat thermometer should register 180F in the dark meat and the stuffing should reach 165F. The juices run clear when turkey is done. The turkey breast reads 170F when it is done.

Remove stuffing from turkey and place in clean serving container. Place in hot holding container. Let turkey stand for few minutes before carving.

4:00 PM Dinner's on. Happy Safe Thanksgiving Dinner

Don't forget the leftovers when everyone has finished. Store leftovers in small covered and shallow containers. Slice turkey for faster cooling. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days and the gravy within 1 to 2 days. You may freeze them for later use.

For this or any other food-safety related information, please contact the Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 713-794-9200.

Contact the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services