RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — This week, millions of people will gather with family and friends to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, but one thing you don’t want to invite to the table is foodborne illness.

“Foodborne illness in general is something you want to avoid,” said Dr. Ellen Shumaker, Extension Associate with NC State University. “It doesn’t make for a fun few days after your holiday if you do get it.”

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, the first step to avoid foodborne illness is handwashing before, during, and after handling food.

You also want to be sure to clean and sanitize any surfaces that have touched raw turkey and its juices.

“Another thing that comes up too is that some people think that they need to wash their turkey before cooking it and that really isn’t necessary,” Shumaker said. “It’s not going to remove the bacteria, you actually run the risk of potentially contaminating other areas of your kitchen or other foods.”

It’s also important to thaw the turkey at a safe, consistent temperature, either in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave. Then, cook thoroughly.

“You want to make sure that you’re cooking the turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and you want to ensure that it’s cooked by using a food thermometer to test multiple parts throughout the turkey,” Shumaker said.

After dinner, you may be too full to move but don’t leave food sitting out too long.

The USDA recommends refrigerating all perishable food sitting out at room temperature within two hours of being cooked.

“There’s sometimes that tendency to get everything out and just have it sit out for long periods of time, but we really want to avoid that because that’s when bacteria that can make us sick, they really like to thrive at room temperature,” Shumaker said. 

Health experts say Thanksgiving leftovers are safe to eat for up to four days in the refrigerator.