To many people it looks delicious, but make sure your turkey is handled and cooked properly before digging in. Photo: Dianne Rosete.

To many people it looks delicious, but make sure your turkey is handled and cooked properly before digging in. Photo: Dianne Rosete.

Time to talk turkey

Turkey is a holiday dinner staple, but can make you sick if not handled and cooked properly

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: a time to enjoy good company and great food. As you spread joy this holiday season, take extra precautions to ensure you are not also spreading food-borne illness.

Follow the food safety tips below from Interior Health’s Kevin Touchet, Manager of Environmental Health, to help keep yourself and your loved ones happy and healthy this holiday season.

Tip 1: Store and thaw turkey safely

There are two ways to safely thaw a frozen turkey in its wrapper. These include:

· In a clean sink full of cold water, changing water every 30 minutes (minimum one-half hour per pound). If the turkey cannot be completely covered by the water, rotate the bird every 30 minutes.

· On a tray on the lowest shelf in your refrigerator (five hours per pound). Make sure your turkey is on a tray big enough to catch any thawing liquid.

Do not thaw turkey at room temperature, as it allows harmful bacteria to grow. Do not try to thaw a turkey in the microwave. The outside temperature will be raised but the internal core could still be frozen.

Fresh and thawed turkeys should be refrigerated for no longer than three days before cooking.

Tip 2: Clean carefully

When preparing any holiday treats or meals, be sure to wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before prep work begins. Once your prep work is done, clean surfaces with hot soapy water, rinse, and then sanitize. Sanitizing can be done with a diluted bleach solution (two tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water / 18ml per 4.5L of water) that is left to sit for two minutes.

Tip 3: Avoid cross contamination

Store raw meat away from food that is ready-to-eat, including fruit and vegetables. Turkeys should be wrapped well and stored on a large tray on the lowest shelf of your fridge, or in a meat keeper, to keep juices from contaminating other food.

Ensure only clean utensils and cutting boards are used when preparing food. Use a separate cutting board and utensils to prepare raw meat. Wash hands frequently in warm soapy water, especially after handling raw meat.

Tip 4: Cook well

For turkey, set the oven no lower than 350° F (177° C) and cook for approximately 20 minutes per pound.

While 20 minutes per pound is a good guide, there are a number of factors that will determine the actual cooking time needed. It is always best to use a meat thermometer to measure the turkey’s internal temperature to ensure it is safe to eat.

All parts of the turkey, including stuffing, should be at least 165° F (74° C) when removed from the oven. Health Canada recommends an internal temperature of 180° F (82° C) at the thickest part of the meat as additional assurance. Check the temperature in several places to be sure.

Cooked food should be kept hot at 140° F (60° C) while waiting to be served.

Tip 5: Refrigerate

Chill food immediately after returning from the store and soon after finishing a meal. Perishable food should be placed in the refrigerator within two hours of being removed from the oven.

Health Canada recommends refrigerating leftovers for no more than two to three days. Put your leftovers in the freezer to keep them longer.

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