Iowa State's Food Safety Answers program offers Thanksgiving food-safety tips

AMES, Iowa -- With the holiday season approaching, Iowa State University Extension offers tips and online resources for safely handling food at the "Ask a Food Safety Expert" Web site (

The site contains more than 600 frequently asked food safety questions that cover purchasing, leftovers and everything in between. ISU Extension and Iowa State's College of Family and Consumer Sciences sponsor the site.

Commonly asked questions include:

  • "What is the safest way to thaw a turkey?" It is best to plan for a slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator -- allow about one day for every five pounds of turkey.
  • "How do I test for doneness in a turkey?" The turkey is done when the temperature reaches 180 degrees to 185 degrees F in the inner thigh of whole turkeys or in the center of the thickest part of turkey pieces. Stuffing temperature should reach at least 165 degrees F.

"This site uses the expertise of universities, federal and state governments, trade associations and the food industry to provide reliable food safety information," said Dan Henroid, Iowa State University Extension specialist and project director.

The site features interactive search tools and topic-specific browsing. Users also may submit an information request to a national food safety expert.

Henroid offers the following food-safety tips for holiday meals:

  • Wash hands. Proper hand washing is the most effective way to keep food and guests safe. Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water following restroom use, after handling raw meat products or before eating. Clean hands help prevent the spread of potential illness-causing microorganisms.
  • Keep it small. If you're planning a buffet and are not sure how quickly the food will be eaten, keep portions small. Prepare a number of small platters and dishes ahead of time. Consider storing cold dishes in the refrigerator and keep hot dishes in the oven (200 degrees to 250 degrees F) prior to serving.
  • Take temperatures. Cooked, hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees F or warmer. Be sure to use a food thermometer (the only safe way to ensure proper temperature) to check temperatures.
  • Keep it cold. Cold foods should be kept at 40B0 F or less. Keep cold foods refrigerated until just before serving. If food is going to stay out on the buffet table longer than two hours, place plates of cold food on ice to retain the chill.
  • Keep it fresh. It can be unsafe to add new food to a serving dish that already has been used. Many people's hands may have touched the food, which has been sitting at room temperature. Replace empty platters with freshly filled ones. Filling food containers frequently helps keep food at proper temperatures.
  • Watch the clock. Remember the "Two-Hour Rule": Don't leave perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours.