Every holiday season we all look forward to sharing holiday meals with family and friends. With Thanksgiving coming up fast, how can you ensure that the food you are preparing is safe for your guests to feast upon?

One week in advance, cooks should begin preparing a frozen turkey by purchasing it a few days to a week in advance to allow time for thawing. This is also a good time to make sure you have a food thermometer for the big day. If not, pick one up at the store when you purchase the turkey.

The optimal place to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. Leave the frozen bird in its original wrapper and place it on a tray to catch any juices that may leak from the package. Allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every four to five pounds of frozen turkey.

If you still have a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving Day, there is no need to panic. It can be thawed using the cold water method. Submerge the turkey, still in its original wrapper, in a container with enough cold water to cover the bird and change the water every 30 minutes per pound of turkey for thawing time.

A turkey can also be cooked from the frozen state, but double the time for it to be cooked as it will require 50 percent more cooking time.

Turkey and stuffing must reach a minimum internal temperature of 165º as measured with a food thermometer in order to destroy bacteria that could be present.

All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165º. When a turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the bird.

After Thanksgiving dinner, cut the leftover turkey into smaller pieces, place in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking. Use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days or freeze them.

If you plan to buy a fresh turkey, do not buy it too soon. Fresh, unfrozen turkey should be kept in the refrigerator no more than two days before cooking.

The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (888-674-6854) is staffed with English and Spanish-speaking food safety experts and is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Virtual food safety representatives, Ask Karen, is available 24/7 in English and Spanish at AskKaren.gov or downloadable from the iTunes and Android app stores.

This article was taken in part from information released by the USDA and FSIS.