By
updated 11/19/2012 11:21:54 AM ET 2012-11-19T16:21:54

As you bring out the turkey and gravy in preparation for Thanksgiving, you'll want to make sure you're not also serving your guests microbes that can make them sick.

Food poisoning is a real problem in the United States, where about 48 million people a year get sick from something they ate, Ben Chapman, a food safety expert at North Carolina State University, said in a new video. In about 3,000 cases a year, the illnesses are fatal, Chapman said.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make your Thanksgiving foodborne-illness free. It all starts with thawing the turkey.

There's no 100-percent risk-free way to thaw a turkey, Chapman said, and every method has its own downsides. A thawing turkey in a sink full of cool water might spread Salmonella or other bacteria to the sink. Thawing in a microwave is quick, but heats the turkey unevenly, meaning you'll want to get the bird in the oven right away to kill off any lurking bugs. Leaving a turkey on the counter can be serious trouble, as the outside will thaw before the inside, giving bacteria time to grow. [ Video – Avoid Thanksgiving Food Poisoning ]

"You don't want to let bacteria grow on the outside while the inside is very cold," Chapman said.

They key to safe turkey-thawing is to keep the bird from getting warmer than 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) for more than four hours, Chapman said. Thawing in the refrigerator can be safe, but you'll want to plan days in advance, and make sure you have something to catch the turkey's juices as it thaws — you don't want to contaminate the other food in your fridge.

Those same juices are important to watch out for as you unwrap your thawed or fresh turkey, Chapman added. Use a platter to keep them from getting everywhere, and don't slip and reuse dirty kitchen shears for other projects.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter@sipappasor LiveScience@livescience. We're also onFacebook&Google+.

© 2012 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments