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Food, family, forecast: Countdown to Thanksgiving

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Lindsey Hadlock

With Thanksgiving around the corner, Cornell University experts offer advice for a safe and stress-free holiday, including directions on how to safely cook your turkey, get along with (and perhaps even learn from) your family and what to expect weather-wise.


Robert Gravani

Robert Gravani

Professor; Director of the National Good Agricultural Practices Program

Proper planning and attention to detail are important for the preparation of a safe and delicious Thanksgiving meal. Robert Gravani, professor of food science, recommends following the four steps to food safety – clean, separate, cook and chill – to prevent the spread of bacteria to food and family so that all can have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving feast.

Gravani says: 

during and after preparing food. Don’t forget to wash your utensils as well.

“Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate, so separate meats from other foods. When cooking and grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from each other and from other foods.

“Cook: Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer and make sure you know the safe temperature for the type of meat you are preparing. Turkey, like all other poultry, requires a temperature of 165°F.

“Chill: Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the ‘danger zone’ between 40°F and 140°F. Never leave perishable food out for more than 2 hours. Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.”

Karl Pillemer

Karl Pillemer

Director Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development, Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College

Many families look forward to the Thanksgiving holiday with a mix of pleasure and worry about how everyone will get along. Gerontologist Karl Pillemer, professor of human development, has conducted studies of older Americans’ advice for younger people. Here’s what they advise for a harmonious holiday together.

Pillemer says: 

Keep politics out of Thanksgiving. According to the elders, the best statement you can make if you are being drawn into a political fight is to choose that time to go for a walk. Leaving the field of battle is one of the best ways to show that Thanksgiving can be a politics-free zone.

“Say what you want to say. One of the biggest regrets for some elders is not expressing affection, gratitude, and love for someone else while they were still alive. Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to ask or tell someone something important – while there is still time.

“Abandon perfection. At Thanksgiving this year, try abandoning all thoughts of the perfect child, the perfect sibling, the perfect parent, or the perfect holiday. This holiday, make it your goal to lighten up: relax your expectations and assume that failure is inevitable at times.

“Gather elder wisdom. Thanksgiving is one event that traditionally brings the generations together. A good way to spend this precious intergenerational time is to ask older family members to give the younger ones a few pieces of advice for living.”

Jessica Spaccio

Jessica Spaccio

Climatologist, Northeast Regional Climate Center

Will there be snow on the ground for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday? While it’s still early for an accurate forecast, Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell, looks at historical probabilities.

Spaccio says: 

“Based on the last 30 years, Anchorage, AK is the most likely to have a white Thanksgiving with a 77% probability to have snow on the ground. Next is Caribou, ME with a 53% probability. The Mid-Atlantic area only has a 3% probability.

“During the November 20-24 time period, most eastern states can expect below-normal temperatures, while the southwest U.S. outlook favors above-normal temperatures.

“A majority of the U.S. is at least slightly favored to have below-normal precipitation. The outlook for Northern New England and northern New York favors near-normal precipitation. The outlook for western states favors above-normal precipitation.

“Based on these outlooks, the Northeast is currently expecting to be colder than normal, and dry to near-normal for precipitation. The cold temperatures will allow any precipitation to fall as snow, but how much remains the question. It’s worth mentioning that lake effect prone areas can see snow whenever the temperatures are below freezing and the wind carries moisture across the lake.”


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