Food Safety for Thanksgiving 2020

Food safety is always important, but the holidays add some special factors to the mix. And this year may be more complicated than usual. For one thing, there are people boldly cooking turkeys who aren’t completely sure how to cook hot dogs. Fewer than one-third of millennials are confident in the kitchen, and this year they may not be going home to mom or grandma’s cooking. 

There are also concerns about COVID-19 which can give food safety a whole new meaning this year. 

What’s more, food poisoning can present with fever. Rather than taking a chance on confusing these symptoms with those of COVID-19, be extra careful about food safety this year.


Crowded grocery stores aren’t a food safety threat, but they can be a COVID-19 issue. Avoid shopping on Thanksgiving Day or the day before, when there are likely to be crowded, and skip Black Friday shopping in person this year. Many groceries offer grocery pick up or delivery. 

There is no evidence that the coronavirus is spread through food, or that it can live very long on packages. Wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid crowds, and your Thanksgiving shopping should be fine.


This year, with the CDC discouraging Thanksgiving travel and large gatherings, grocers expect that most Americans will want a smaller turkey. This means, if you don’t buy a frozen turkey early, you might end up with a larger bird than you’re used to. Safe cooking times for a large turkey are quite long, so be sure to calculate the time you need for the turkey you have. Plan on 13 minutes per pound at 350 degrees for an unstuffed bird. 

Since you can’t really tell whether a turkey is done by looking at it, use a meat thermometer to make sure your bird reaches 165 degrees at the meatiest part of the breast. A 20-pound turkey could take close to five hours of cooking time. 

If you choose a frozen bird, make sure to thaw it in the refrigerator. Again, this could take longer than you expect — up to three days.

Keep the raw turkey separate from other elements of the meal, and thoroughly clean the preparation surfaces after you get your bird in the oven. Separate cutting boards for poultry and vegetables help reduce cross-contamination.


The CDC suggests plating food for each guest this year rather than setting the food out family style or on a buffet. This is also the year to choose disposable partyware instead of Grandmother’s china.

Certainly do not share glasses or utensils.

Designate one person to refill plates or drinks, and make hand washing a priority for anyone involved in serving. COVID-19 is most often spread through the air rather than on surfaces, but taking simple precautions makes sense. 

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold while you are serving. Be sure to refrigerate leftovers within two hours. 

Porch parties

The CDC recommends that Thanksgiving gatherings be limited to small dinners with your own household or socially distanced meals with two or three households from your community. Stick with your pod (the people you have been in contact with during the pandemic) and look forward to big family gatherings in 2021.

An alternative is to prepare Thanksgiving meals in your usual way and deliver them to friends and family contact free. You could make and deliver turkey and dressing, while your neighbor makes vegetable side dishes and your brother fixes pies for all. Pack up the food, mask up, and leave it on one another’s porches. 

Call it a porch party!

Families who are using this method of Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving entertainment may then gather virtually on Zoom or Facebook Live to share their meal. This is a good solution for many larger groups who want to recreate their usual holiday celebrations.

You don’t want to add food poisoning to the event. Here are some tips for food safety:

  • Divide the cooking to keep hot and cold foods apart. Instead of bringing a hot casserole and a cold salad with mayonnaise in one box, have one person bring hot dishes and another bring cold ones. If you’re doing all the cooking, separate hot and cold dishes.
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Pack food in an insulated bag or cooler.
  • Ring the doorbell, text, or call to make sure people know there is food on their porch. 
  • When you collect food from your porch, make sure you refrigerate it within two hours.

Thanksgiving 2020 will be different from other Thanksgiving celebrations, but it can still be a memorable, grateful time.

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