The American Red Cross and University of Missouri Extension Office in Phelps County have safety steps to use while preparing the Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving is all about food and family – turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and family time.

However, preparing holiday goodies can lead to disaster – the kitchen is the setting of more fires than any other room in the house, and cooking is the leading cause of fires in the home.

The American Red Cross and University of Missouri Extension Office in Phelps County have safety steps to use while preparing the Thanksgiving feast.

“We want folks to have a safe holiday,” said Mike Flanagan, communications manager for the Heart of Missouri Chapter. “We have steps they can follow to avoid ruining their holiday with a cooking fire.”

The cooks should start by not wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking and never leave cooking food unattended – stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If someone must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, they should turn off the stove.

Other safety steps include:

• Check food regularly while cooking and remain in the home while cooking. Use a timer as a reminder that the stove or oven is on.

• Keep the kids away from the cooking area. Enforce a “kid-free zone” and make them stay at least three feet away from the stove.

• Keep anything that can catch fire – pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains – away from the stove, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.

• Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.

• Purchase a fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen. Contact the local fire department to take training on the proper use of extinguishers.

• Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens and small appliances are turned off.

• Install a smoke alarm near the kitchen, on each level of the home, near sleeping areas and inside and outside bedrooms. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

Additionally, Bethany Schindler, nutrition and health education specialist with the UM Extension, compiled some of the most important questions and answers pertaining to food safety when handling a turkey.

• What do I need to do before I buy a turkey? First, you will need to clear out enough space in your refrigerator to defrost the turkey. Do not defrost on the counter. This method only promotes bacteria growth and the chance that someone may become ill. Second, decide on what size turkey you want to buy. A good estimate is about one pound of uncooked turkey per person.

• When should I buy my turkey? Keep in mind that it takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw. Most people are looking at about two to four days to thaw in the refrigerator. If you are buying a fresh turkey, buy it one to two days before you plan to cook it and keep it refrigerated.

• How should I thaw the turkey? Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method. You can also thaw your bird in cold water by placing it in its original packaging in a sanitized sink or pan and submerging it in cold water. You will need to change the cold water every 30 minutes and remember to cook the bird immediately after thawing. Do not refreeze it. If you choose to thaw the turkey in the sink, be sure to sanitize everything again after you are done thawing it to remove any bacteria left behind. And, as always, wash your hands.

• So it’s thawed. What do I do now? Once you have thawed your turkey, remove the neck and giblets and keep all parts of the bird that you plan to cook in the refrigerator until it is ready to be cooked.

• I have it in the oven, how do I know if it is done? The most important thing to remember is that the internal temperature determines if the bird is done. Use a food thermometer to take the temperature by inserting it into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone. A done turkey will have a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Also check for this same temperature in the wing and thickest part of the breast.

• Should I check the temperature of my stuffing inside the bird as well? Yes, the temperature of the stuffing inside your bird should also reach 165 degrees. If your turkey has reached this temperature, but the stuffing hasn’t, remove the stuffing and place it in a casserole dish and continue cooking the stuffing until it reaches 165 degrees.

• How do I keep all of the leftovers safe? Within two hours, store all of the leftovers in shallow containers and place them in the refrigerator or freezer. Cooked leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy should be used within three to four days. Cooked turkey will keep in the freezer for three to four months. When it comes time to reheating leftovers, make sure the temperature is 165 degrees and gravy should be brought back to a boil before serving.