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5 tips to avoid poisoning your dinner guests this Thanksgiving

Make sure your bird's internal temperature hits at least 165 degrees before serving.
Make sure your bird's internal temperature hits at least 165 degrees before serving.
Rana Faure/Corbis

Thanksgiving means feasting and fun with family and friends, but skip a few important food preparation steps and an unwelcome guest may turn up at your dinner table: food poisoning.

Each year, one in six Americans is felled by food poisoning, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And many of those cases happen on holidays, such as Thanksgiving.  

That’s the bad news.

The good news?  Public health agencies say all you need to do is follow simple food preparation safety tips to protect your family, your friends and your reputation.

They include:

1. The safe thaw:  It’s best to defrost your frozen turkey in its original wrapper in your refrigerator.  Allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds. If you're running short on time, simply place the  bird (keeping it in its original wrapper) in a bowl of cold water. Then replace the water every 30 minutes. You'll need about 30 minutes of water thaw for each pound of meat.  Still not enough time?  Defrost it in your microwave, then cook it immediately.  Never attempt to cook a partially thawed turkey. 

2. Cook it well:  Set the oven temp to at least 325 degrees. Before feasting on the big bird, you'll want to make sure the meat temperature hits 165 degrees or higher.  Do that by inserting a thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey's thigh, without touching the bone. Then check it again at the wing joint, within the thickest part of the breast and in the center of the stuffing. 

3. Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods: Use separate cutting boards, knives and platters for raw meats and other foods. Wash the boards, knives and platters thoroughly between each use.

4. Hot and Cold: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold throughout the festivities. Refrigerate  leftovers within two hours. 

5. Handle leftovers properly:  The USDA recommends you reheat your leftovers thoroughly - to 165 degrees - or until hot and steaming. Bring gravy to a rolling boil.  If you use a microwave, cover the food and make sure the dish rotates while cooking to ensure even heating. 

Symptoms of food-borne illnesses include stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. They can start hours or days after eating contaminated or undercooked foods. Most people who suffer from a food-borne illness will recover without medical treatment. But food poisoning can be life-threatening for young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.