Photo courtesy of University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Through its work in the Maine food system, University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts research and offers training, workshops, bulletins and videos that highlight proper sanitation, food preservation and safe food-handling practices, as well as healthy and budget-friendly recipes. There are a number of resources on Extension’s Food and Health website to help you prepare for and enjoy a safe and tasty Thanksgiving meal.

If you are wondering how much turkey to buy, Kate Yerxa, registered dietitian and extension professor, suggests planning for 1–1.5 pounds of turkey per person. This will provide enough for the meal and leftovers for turkey sandwiches or your favorite turkey recipe.

How to safely thaw the turkey is another common question, says Jason Bolton, UMaine Extension professor. The length of time it will take to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator depends on its size. Plan on 24 hours per 5 pounds of frozen turkey.

Turkey should be cooked to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill harmful bacteria. The temperature should be measured in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder within two hours of being cooked, and should be frozen or used within four days.

Gravy needs to be used within two days. Dairy-based desserts, such as cream pies and cheesecakes, must be kept refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. For more detailed information about thawing, cooking and storing your turkey, download the free bulletin Helpful Hints for Handling Turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Extension has several other food safety fact sheets that many find helpful at this time of year:

Basics for Handling Food Safely 

General Food Safety Tips for Preparing Food

Food for Holiday Giving: Safety Comes First!

Recipes for a variety of side dishes, many of which use local Maine produce, can also be found on the UMaine Extension website. The organization has developed a Mainely Dish video series to illustrate step-by-step instructions for many of its featured recipes. Mainers can also visit the Spoonful Blog to find science-based food and nutrition information, including recipes, food preservation, grocery shopping on a budget, food safety and health tips. 

If you have any food safety questions this Thanksgiving, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1.888.674.6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the meat and poultry hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.