Courtesy NBC

HELENA – Thursday is intended to be a day to give thanks, but for many it also means spending hours in the kitchen making the perfect meal.

To make sure that holiday meal doesn’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, the Department of Public Health and Human Services also wants to make food safety a priority.

Public Health Sanitarian Alicia Coonen said if people aren’t careful, they risk outbreaks of salmonella, norovirus or other nasty illnesses while preparing Thanksgiving day meals.

According to Coonen, the biggest mistake people make is letting a turkey thaw out on the counter. Coonen said that can lead to salmonella and that to properly thaw a turkey, you should leave it in the refrigerator or run cold water over the bird. If you thaw and store food in the refrigerator, make sure there is enough room for air to circulate and keep all the items cool.

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While working in the kitchen, be sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly so that any bacteria and fecal matter isn’t spread from you to your guests.

While much of the recommendations may seem like common sense, Coonen said it’s easy to get distracted and ignore proper hygiene around the holidays.

“Everyone gets caught up on everything else. They’re thinking about their Christmas shopping, they’re thinking about the in-laws coming in today. I think it’s really easy for something idle like a turkey sitting out on a counter to get forgotten about,” Coonen said.

Finally, once you’ve stuffed yourself with all the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy you can handle, make sure to put those leftovers in the refrigerator. DPHHS recommends leftovers be put away within two hours of eating.

“Store leftovers in small, shallow containers to assist with quick cooling,” DPHHS said in a release.

If you’re questioning whether the leftovers are still good, just throw them out to be safe.