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Thanksgiving 2013: Turkey cooking tips, safety information for holiday meals

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(CNN) - In just two days, families across the nation will sit down for one of the most important meals of the day - Thanksgiving dinner.

If they stick to tradition, there will be plenty of turkey on the table. But like any fowl, the turkey must be prepared properly to avoid illness. Whether you're a gourmet chef or a turkey novice, cooking the bird properly is key to a healthy holiday.

When preparing a turkey, you need to be aware of four key safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing and cooking to an adequate temperature.

Turkeys much be kept at a safe temperature. The danger zone - where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly - falls between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Let your turkey thaw in the refrigerator and not out on the counter.

When it comes to cooking your turkey, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees and check the turkey's internal temperature as you cook it. It must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Expert chefs recommend placing a meat thermometer between the leg and cavity of the body to check the temperature, along with the thickest part of the breast.

Meanwhile, arguably the most important part of the mean - your leftovers - shouldn't be left out for long. Don't leave your food out for longer than two hours and make sure to use them within 3 or 4 days.

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