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College of Pharmacy

Thanksgiving Safety: Don’t Let Food Poisoning Gobble Up Your Good Time!

Palmetto Poison Center, 1-800-222-1222

Cooking the Thanksgiving Day feast can be stressful for many reasons, especially when it comes to the turkey. Every year, people are treated for food poisoning from improperly handled food. You can stay healthy this Thanksgiving by following these food safety tips from the Palmetto Poison Center:

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of shopping or preparing. 
  • When thawing food in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of meat. Thawing meat on the counter at room temperature is not safe.
  • Submerging the turkey in cold tap water is also a safe thawing method. Make sure the bird is in a leak-proof container and change the water every 30 minutes until thawed.
  • Never place fresh fruit/vegetables or cooked food in the same container or on the same surface that raw meat has touched.
  • Always wash your hands after handling raw meat. Scrub your hands, wrists, fingernails and in between fingers with soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers immediately.

“Improperly cooking the stuffing that is placed inside the bird can also cause people to become sick,” said Jill Michels, managing director of the Palmetto Poison Center at the College of Pharmacy at USC. Michels, a clinical pharmacist, said, “Even if the bird is cooked correctly, stuffing may not have reached the temperature necessary to kill potentially harmful bacteria.”

To ensure food is properly cooked, follow these pointers:

  • For optimal safety, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. If you place it inside the turkey, do so just after thoroughly cooking the turkey.
  • Set oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure the turkey is completely thawed.
  • Cook the bird breast side up on a flat wire rack in a roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep.
  • Check the temperature at the meaty portion of the breast, thigh and wing. The safe minimum internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The USDA’s recommended cooking times for your Thanksgiving bird are as follows:

Turkey Weight Cooking Time
8-12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours
12-14 pounds 3 to 3 ¾ hours
14-18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours

Food poisoning can present itself in different ways, but common symptoms include nausea/vomiting, diarrhea and fever that lasts longer than 48 hours.

The Palmetto Poison Center is staffed by trained nurses and pharmacists who can provide expert information when food poisoning occurs. The center provides services to more than 4 million residents in all 46 counties of South Carolina. Services are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To contact the Palmetto Poison Center, call 1-800-222-1222. Visit the center’s website at for free materials, or follow the center on Facebook at Palmetto Poison Center.

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