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Thanksgiving food safety tips

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: November 24, 2020
Family gathering to connect virtually with loved ones

Follow these safety tips to avoid food poisoning and COVID-19.

To keep you safe while preparing your Thanksgiving day feast, consider the following tips to avoid food poisoning and possible COVID-19 exposure.


Dr. Chris Mackenzie
Chris Mackenzie, PhD (Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/The University of Texas Medical School at Houston Office of Communications)

Cleaning is the first step to keep you on track when it comes to food preparation and safety. It’s important to clean your hands and all surfaces that will be used while cooking your meal, including cutting boards, counter-tops, knives, etc. This is especially important if you are handling ingredients that will not be cooked, like salad. “Before cooking, wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands and surfaces completely after you handle food, especially after touching raw meat,” said Chris Mackenzie, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.


Containment is key to preventing cross-contamination. Cutting boards and cooking utensils used for raw meat and seafood should be kept separate from all other ingredients. E. coli can live on a surface for up to 24 hours. Immediately throwing away the packaging from meat and poultry can help reduce your risk of contaminating your cooking area.

“For those who will be barbecuing, make sure there are two sets of tongs, one for raw meat and seafood and another for cooked food,” said Mackenzie.

He also suggests using a color-coding system or two pairs of tongs that look different, so there won’t be a mix-up while serving your guests.


To kill bacteria that can cause food poisoning, it is important to cook all meat, poultry, and seafood properly. Depending on what you are preparing, cooking times will vary. A meat thermometer can help you determine that the internal temperature of your meal has reached a safe temperature to eat. After each use, you should wash your meat thermometer in hot, soapy water to kill any bacteria.


“Letting foods that should remain cold warm up is a common route to food poisoning,” he said. “Bacteria that live in foods will release toxins as the temperature rises and can result in illness.”

Once your meal is cooked, leftovers should be cooled down as quickly as possible to ensure food safety.

“If you are preparing a big batch of food that will last for several meals, box them into several containers (preferably shallow boxes, so they can cool down fast in the fridge or freezer). Do all this while the food is still hot,” said Mackenzie. Leftovers in the fridge should be eaten or thrown away within three days.

Stay safe

Though the Thanksgiving is usually a time for friends and family to gather, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends celebrating virtually with those you do not live with with. However, if you are planning to get together in-person, the CDC suggests wearing a mask, social distancing, and consistent hand-washing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.