Hosting My First Thanksgiving

Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is already stressful to begin with, especially if you have a large family like myself, but being a food safety enthusiast added a whole new level of importance to the holiday because I wanted to take this opportunity to teach my family more about food safety.

Thanksgiving Turkey

In my family we rotate who hosts Thanksgiving so it doesn’t fall on the same person every year to do all the work…and this year was my year.  I was so excited because my husband and I just recently got a house and I was anxious to show off my hosting, cooking, and most importantly, my food safety skills.

The whole process started about two weeks before the event when I went to the grocery store to get the turkey. I worried that if I procrastinated buying the turkey then the store would run out. (Side note…I went to the store the day before Thanksgiving to grab last minute items and there were TONS of turkeys left). I put the turkey in the freezer when I got home.

As the host, we were responsible for the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and a sweet potato and carrot sauté, while the rest of the family was responsible for other various traditional Thanksgiving dishes.  About five days before Thanksgiving I went and bought the rest of the ingredients and promptly put them in the refrigerator or pantry when I got home.  A few days before Thanksgiving, I moved the turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator to safely start thawing and I also cubed loaves of bread to lay out to dry out for the stuffing (my family does not actually stuff the turkey, so some may call this dressing).

Food Thermometer

The day before Thanksgiving was prep time, so I washed and cut celery, diced onion, peeled and cut carrots and cleaned the turkey.  I stored the prepped ingredients in proper containers and put them in the refrigerator until the big day.  While doing so, I made sure to wash my hands, utensils, and countertops thoroughly between handling the raw turkey and my produce. No cross-contamination at this house!  I also calibrated my meat thermometer in case I had to get a new one. (You can do this by boiling a pot of water, sticking your thermometer in the water, not touching the pot, for 1 minute and you should read a temperature between 210-214°F).

The day of Thanksgiving, after the oven was preheated, I got Fred out of the refrigerator (yes, I named the turkey) and put him into the roaster, smothered him with butter, surrounded him with stuffing, and put him in the oven covered.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law brought appetizers that we snacked on before the big dinner, such as cheese and crackers, deviled eggs, and chex mix. I made sure to refrigerate the perishable items as soon as she arrived, and only put out a portion of each appetizer at a time and refilled the snacks only when needed, leaving nothing out that should be refrigerated for more than 2 hours.

I checked the turkey about every hour to baste and stir the stuffing, meanwhile getting the rest of the food prepared and cooked. Finally, after 4.5 hours the thermometer read 165°F when I checked the turkey. I did this by inserting the thermometer in to the meatiest portion of the turkey and made sure to not get too close to the bone because that will give an inaccurate reading. The rest of the food was ready, so we feasted!

After Thanksgiving dinner, my husband and I cleaned the dishes and stored the leftovers in the refrigerator right away. I did not sit until all the leftovers were put in shallow containers (to allow for quicker cooling than deep containers). I divided the leftovers into individual containers for my family members to take home. I made sure to make it a point to tell them as a general rule to freeze or eat the leftovers within 3-4 days and to put the containers in the refrigerator as soon as they get home.

All in all, I was in the kitchen for about 8 hours that day. It was stressful, exhausting, and completely wonderful. I practice food safety in my everyday life, but this time I wanted to set an example for my family to observe and practice when it is their turn to host.

For more information on Thanksgiving and Holiday food safety please visit:  
http://www.cdc.gov/features/turkeytime/ 
http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm328131.htm