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Turkey Talk: Are You Ready?

Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team

Let this five-question quiz shed light on how savvy you are in keeping food and guests safe from a foodborne illness this Thanksgiving holiday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. The two most common types of germs causing foodborne illness are bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria and Escherichia coli (E. coli) and viruses like Norovirus.

Do your part to protect yourself, your family and guests from a foodborne illness this holiday season. Get prepared by checking how savvy you are when it comes to common holiday missteps with our quiz below.

Question #1
How should you defrost the turkey?

  1. On the counter overnight.
  2. In the oven.
  3. Unwrapped in the sink.
  4. In the refrigerator.


Question #2
How can you tell if your turkey is cooked?

  1. When the drumstick is loose and wiggles off.
  2. When the thermometer pops up.
  3. When an instant-read food thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. When the flesh is no longer pink.


Question #3

True or False? Always rinse the turkey prior to cooking.


Question #4
How long can you keep hot and cold dishes out on a buffet table?

  1. The entire party.
  2. 4 hours.
  3. 2 hours.
  4. 1 hour.


Question #5
What is the number one cause of foodborne illness?

  1. Undercooked meat.
  2. Food left out of refrigeration too long.
  3. Hot food left to cool too long.
  4. Unwashed hands.


Answer #1
Defrosting Turkey

Answer: D. Always defrost meat in the refrigerator to minimize your chance of a foodborne illness. Give your frozen turkey 24 hours for every 5 pounds it weighs. Therefore, you would defrost a 20-pound turkey in the refrigerator for 4 days.


Answer #2
Just Cook It…Right.

Answer: C. Taste, smell and look will not tell you if meat is cooked properly— no matter how trained you think you are! An instant-read thermometer is the only way to verify meat is fully cooked. Aim for 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the breast and innermost part of the wing and thigh.

Our favorite tool?

A programable probe digital food thermometer with an alarm.


Answer #3
Keep it Clean

Answer: False. While this is a practice some people have been accustomed to, rinsing the turkey increases the chance of splattering bacteria like salmonella onto counters and other foods. Play it safe. Simply pat the turkey dry with paper towels (and trash them!) before dressing the bird.

If familial and/or cultural traditions include rinsing raw poultry as part of the cooking process, and you do choose to rinse your holiday turkey, take extra steps to properly wash and disinfect the surfaces of your kitchen.

According to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this includes:

1. Running water gently over the poultry, to reduce splashing.
2. Immediately cleaning your sink, and the area around the sink, with hot soapy water.
3. Following up by sanitizing your sink, and the area around the sink, thoroughly, with a commercial sanitizing solution or homemade diluted bleach solution.
    Note: If making your own diluted bleach solution, mix 4 teaspoons
    bleach with 4 cups (1 quart) room temperature water and
    replace after 24 hours.1

4. Properly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, with soap and warm running water.

Learn more by visiting the CDC’s Chicken and Food Poisoning webpage. 


Answer #4
When in Doubt…

Answer: C. We’ll go hungry at parties for this reason: Perishable foods must not be left out longer than two hours. Keep cold foods cold with an ice bath and hot foods hot with chaffing dishes or a slow cooker. If that is not an option, only serve a small amount of perishable foods at a time- refilling often on clean plates.


Answer #5
It’s “Happy Birthday” Time

Answer: D. Although all of the answer options above increase your risk for having a foodborne illness, nothing precipitates your risk faster than unwashed hands.

Properly washing hands for 20 seconds (or singing two rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song) is a must before, during and after handling food. Because you never know who didn’t properly wash their hands, always use serving utensils on your  buffet.


How did you do?

Although there are plenty of other ways for making this year’s holiday gathering the safest yet, mastering these five is a great start.


For more tips on holiday food safety, visit the Safe Holiday Meal Tips and Planning page from our partners at the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cleaning and disinfecting with bleach. https://www.cdc.gov/hygiene/cleaning/disinfecting-bleach.html. Accessed 10/30/2023.

Reviewed 11/14/2022