By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) — For many of us, Thanksgiving is the best meal of the year, especially since it’s a feast that can be enjoyed for days after the official holiday. The key, though, is making sure your worst problem is overeating, not illness from poor food prep or storage. So here are some thoughts on how to spend your holiday with loved ones, and not repeatedly trotting to the bathroom.

One: To begin, get it “right” from the start.

That means thawing that bird out. if you do it in the fridge, allow one day per five pounds. If you thaw in warm water, be sure to change the water every 30 minutes. And NEVER leave a turkey on the counter to thaw overnight. It will spoil.

Number Two: To Wash or Not To Wash? Yes and No.

Meaning, you should be washing your hands over and over again — every time you touch something or go from one task to another. Then, spend at least 20 seconds with soap and water per wash. And don’t forget to wash counter tops and other surfaces frequently, especially the ones that come in contact with the uncooked turkey.

As for NOT washing, you shouldn’t wash your turkey before cooking. That just spreads germs microscopically. The only way to kill the germs on an uncooked bird… is to cook it.

Number Three: Don’t cross-contaminate. In other words, use separate cutting boards, plates, knives, and other utensils when working with raw turkey and other foods. A lot of nasty germs like Salmonella can get onto a plate while handling raw turkey and then get sucked onto the raw veggies when you use the same plate again. A quick water rinse won’t cut it. Use a fresh plate.

Number Four: When it comes to cooking, a meat thermometer is more reliable than your eyeballs and a clock in scoping out how well-cooked that turkey really is. An actual meat thermometer is also more reliable than a “pop-up,” that’s jammed into some turkeys. (And no, turkeys are not bred with automatic pop-ups, like you may have heard on the show “Friends”).

The thickest part of the turkey should be cooked to at least 165 degrees.

Number Five: The clock is running to put away those left overs before you settle down for some pie and a snooze. Remember the two-hour rule. That means the most you should never leave cooked food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Be a dare-devil and let food sit out for three, four, or five hours at room temp, and you’ve now got the perfect recipe for stomach distress from germs multiplying.

Number Six: Now come the leftovers — think small. As in storage, not your meal size. When it comes to packing away those leftovers, two inch shallow containers or baggies will help food cool down more quickly in the fridge.

Finally, how long do you have to devour those leftovers?

Leftovers should be eaten within 3-4 days of the original meal… meaning that by next Monday, the opportunity for that last turkey sandwich is upon you. Gravy is even shorter, maybe 1-2 days. When it comes to pie, pumpkin or any other with milk of eggs need to be kept in the fridge. If you decide to freeze foods, it’s best to make sure you devour them within four months.

Happy eating, and Happy Thanksgiving!


Dr. Dave Hnida


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