Family gatherings and home-cooked meals are a treasured part of the holiday season, but as we prepare for Thanksgiving, the managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School said cooks need to follow some important safeguards to avoid a potential dinner disaster.

Bruce Ruck said make sure you do not leave a frozen turkey out to thaw. Keep it in the refrigerator “on top of a platter that can catch any leaking fluids, put on the lowest shelf possible so if anything does drip we do not get cross-contamination of other foods, or the refrigerator itself.”

He said leaving a turkey out to thaw opens the door to possible bacterial contamination, “especially because there are different layers in the turkey that will defrost sooner than the others.”

Ruck explained you also need to be careful about cross-contamination when preparing your Thanksgiving meal.

“If you cut something that’s raw, wash that knife, or wash any spoons or utensils you use before your go ahead and cut something else or use it on another piece of food,” he said.

Thanksgiving dinner
shironosov ThinkStock

Protect your family

The turkey should be fully cooked. Click here for a temperature guide.

Ruck said while many foods can be cooked in a microwave inside their packaging, this is not the case with turkeys.

You want to make sure you do remove all of the plastic wrapping and you want to make sure the turkey is washed and cleaned before you do start to cook them.”

mheim3011 GettyImages
mheim3011 GettyImages

Food poisoning alert

He stressed to lessen the chance of food going bad, most items should not be left on the table for more than an hour or two, because food poisoning is unpredictable.

“One person may get a little bit of stomach upset, but at the other end of the spectrum somebody may become severely ill.”

Ruck said young children and the elderly are much more prone to dehydration related to food poisoning than most adults in their 30s and 40s.

He said if you are preparing a Thanksgiving meal, check to see if any guests have a specific food allergy.

He also noted hot foods can go straight into the refrigerator without cooling first, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you are reheating leftovers, you should use a food thermometer to make sure the food reaches at least 165 degrees before ingesting it.

“Don’t do the cooking if you’re sick, stay away from the kitchen," he added. “I’m not necessarily talking about COVID, I’m talking about just common flu symptoms, common colds are going around like crazy.”

You can reach the New Jersey Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

Click here to contact an editor about feedback or a correction for this story.

The 99 top paying jobs in New Jersey

How much do you make? These are the occupations in New Jersey with the highest median annual compensation. Source: Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022

LOOK: Here's where people in every state are moving to most

Stacker analyzed the Census Bureau's 2019 American Community Survey data to determine the three most popular destinations for people moving out of each state.

States with the most registered hunters

Stacker analyzed data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine which states have the most registered hunters. Read on to see how your state ranks on Stacker’s list.

More From 105.7 The Hawk