3 Thanksgiving Health and Safety Tips

NOVEMBER 16, 2017

Thanksgiving represents a great opportunity for pharmacists to play an important role in patient education. From medication safety to the prevention of foodborne illnesses, pharmacists can provide great resources and support. 

Check out these 3 Thanksgiving health and safety tips:

1. Encourage patients to get their annual influenza vaccines. Influenza activity is low in the United States, but it is increasing.1 Vaccination is the best way for patients to protect themselves and family members from the flu. Let patients know that it takes about 2 weeks for the vaccine to become effective. The most frequently reported influenza virus type so far this season has been influenza A.

2. Educate patients to poison-proof their homes. Poison prevention is extremely important, especially for families with children and pets. Medications should be stored out of the reach of children and pets, preferably in a locked area. Those who are hosting Thanksgiving celebrations in their homes should be sure to keep guests’ handbags and suitcases, which may contain medications, out of the reach of children. Tell families to assign an adult to keep an eye on children, as poisoning can happen in the blink of an eye. Families should keep the Poison Help Line number (1-800-222-1222) on hand, which is a great free resource available 24/7 for poison emergencies.

Keep chocolate, coffee, and caffeine products away from pets. These products contain methylxanthines, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, arrhythmias, tremors, seizures, and even death.Products containing the sweetener xylitol (eg, gum, candy, baked goods, and toothpaste) should also be kept out of reach. Xylitol can cause insulin release, which can lead to liver failure and hypoglycemia. Tell families that they can contact their veterinarians or the Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) in an emergency.2 There may be a $65 fee applied for a consultation with the Animal Poison Control Center.

3. Prevent foodborne illness during the Thanksgiving meal. Advise patients to purchase a food thermometer to make sure that the turkey is cooked and reaches a temperature of 165°F.3 The preferred method of thawing a turkey is in the refrigerator. It is important to plan ahead to allow about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40°F or below.3 

It is important to wash one's hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing food. The turkey should not be washed, as this can spread pathogens onto kitchen surfaces. Additionally, raw turkey should be separated from all other foods.  Separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils should be used when handling raw turkey to prevent cross-contamination. The turkey’s temperature should be checked by inserting the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing. Leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours to prevent Clostridium perfringens, which are bacteria that grow in cooked foods left at room temperature.4 Symptoms include vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours of consuming the affected food. This is the second-most-common bacterial cause of food poisoning, with most outbreaks occurring in November and December.4


1.  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Weekly US influenza surveillance report. cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm. Updated November 9, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017.
2. ASPCA. People foods to avoid feeding your pets. aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/people-foods-avoid-feeding-your-pets. Accessed November 14, 2017.
3. Foodsafety.gov. Thanksgiving. foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/index.html.  Accessed November 14, 2017.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food safety tips for your holiday turkey.  cdc.gov/features/turkeytime/index.html. Updated November 13, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017.

Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh, received her PharmD degree from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) College of Pharmacy in 2006 and completed a 2-year drug information residency. She served as a pharmacy professor at NSU’s College of Pharmacy for 6 years, managed the drug information center, and conducted medication therapy management reviews. Dr. Gershman has published research on prescription drug abuse, regulatory issues, and drug information in various scholarly journals. Additionally, she received the Sheriff’s Special Recognition Award for her collaboration with the Broward, Florida Sheriff’s Office to prevent prescription drug abuse through a drug disposal program. She has also presented at pharmacist and physician continuing education programs on topics that include medication errors, prescription drug abuse, and legal and regulatory issues. Dr. Gershman can be followed on Twitter @jgershman2