Thanksgiving is a day to spend with family and friends to share thanks, stories, food, and hopefully, no food-borne illnesses. At this time of the year, Bridget Sweet, executive director of food safety, Johnson & Wales University, adds that we should also give thanks to modern science and the four pillars of food safety set forth by the USDA. Simply stated, the pillars are: clean, separate, cook, and chill.

"We should be minding these every day," Sweet notes. With certifications that include Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) and Certified Professional-Food Safety (CP-FS), Sweet recommends making food safety a family affair, and all year round. She offers easy to implement ways to do so this Thanksgiving:

On Thanksgiving, there can be too many cooks in the kitchen as everyone (almost everyone) wants to lend a helping hand. Ensuring that all of your "helpers" – whether it is grandma or your children – wash their hands properly – will go a long way to reduce foodborne illness. Do not be surprised if the youngsters wash their hands better than everyone. Elementary school teachers are sticklers for handwashing these days. Follow the little one's lead at the sink.

In addition to clean hands, make sure your counter space is clean and prepare your food in separate areas. If your son is going to make a platter of cheese and crackers, do not let grandma mix the ingredients for her famous meatballs while she stands right next to him. This will reduce the risk of cross contamination. Also, refrain from rinsing that turkey before you place it into the oven. Rinsing the turkey in the sink can create additional cross contamination risks.

Make sure to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees (Fahrenheit). "I know, I know – you can just tell when the skin is a golden brown, you know the bird is fully cooked," Sweet says. "You do not have super powers with x-ray vision. Trust me: use the thermometer."

Once the meal is served and enjoyed, and as the guests and family start to get up from the table for football, shopping, or a nap, make the time to save the food properly for your leftovers. If any food remains out for more than two hours, Sweet would not recommend saving it as a leftover. The combination of time and temperature can allow bacteria to form, so it is best to discard at that point. Store the foods in shallow containers, allowing more surface area to increase cooling and place them into the refrigerator. If you plan to freeze, be sure the items are in the freezer no later than Black Friday. If you do have leftovers, they should be consumed within four days.

In her capacity with JWU, Sweet oversees the compliance of all four of the university's U.S. campuses within every level of established food safety standards set forth by governmental agencies and the university's own strict guidelines. She also designed and teaches "Advanced Food Safety, HACCP and Special Processes," a course that provides students with advanced training in food safety concepts and special processes, while they simultaneously develop workplace skills that are highly valued by employers.