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Poultry safety

Poultry (such as turkey, chicken and duck) can be enjoyed in a variety of ways--but it can also cause food poisoning if it has not been stored, prepared or cooked properly. Protect your family from illness by following some simple rules.

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Health risks

Some people can get a foodborne illness, also known as "food poisoning", and not even know they have it. Food poisoning can be caused by eating foods that are contaminated. It's not unusual for raw poultry to be contaminated with Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria.

Did you know?

Campylobacteriosis affects children under five and young adults (15-29) more frequently than other age groups.

Safety tips

Cooking food at high temperatures usually kills bacteria contained in the food itself. However, it doesn't help to control bacteria that may have spread to your refrigerator, counters or utensils while the food was being stored or prepared. Follow the safety tips below to protect your family.

Shopping

  • Buy cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip.
  • Check the "best before" date on fresh poultry. Although these dates do not guarantee product safety, they do give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened foods you are buying.
  • Check to make sure that raw poultry is securely packaged so that its juices are contained. The package should not be ripped or leaking.
  • Place the poultry in a separate plastic bag at the bottom of the cart to prevent it, or its juices, from making contact with other items in the grocery cart.
  • Young children should be kept away from raw poultry in the shopping cart and at home.
  • If you use reusable grocery bags or bins, make sure to use a specific bag or bin for raw poultry. Label the bag or bin with the type of food it carries.
  • Wash your reusable grocery bags frequently, especially if you are carrying raw poultry.

Chilling

It is extremely important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so that your food never reaches the "temperature danger zone" where bacteria can grow quickly and cause food-related illness.

  • Keep your raw poultry cold. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. When you buy poultry, don't leave it sitting in the car or on a counter when you get home. Refrigerate or freeze it immediately.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower and your freezer at -18 °C (0 °F) or lower. This will keep your food out of the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) where bacteria can grow quickly.
  • Place the poultry in a clean container or a plastic bag that will hold any leaking raw juices.
  • Cook fresh poultry within no more than two to three days after purchasing. If you do not intend to cook it within this time, it should be frozen.
  • For best quality, frozen, well-wrapped poultry can be kept in the freezer for up to one year.

Cleaning

The process of getting poultry ready for the oven, pan or grill can spread bacteria to other foods, surfaces or people. Follow the advice below to avoid getting sick.

  • Never rinse poultry before using it because the bacteria can spread everywhere the water splashes, creating more of a safety hazard.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • An alcohol-based hand rub can be used if soap and water are not available.
  • You should always wash your hands before and after you touch raw poultry, after using the washroom, after handling pets and after changing diapers.
  • If you've used a plate or utensils to handle raw food, don't use them again until you've washed them thoroughly in the dishwasher or in warm, soapy water. Or use clean plates and utensils.
  • Use one cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw poultry.
  • Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sponges, as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
  • Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food. Use a kitchen sanitizer (following the directions on the container) or a bleach solution (5 ml household bleach to 750 ml of water), and rinse with water.

Thawing

The safest way to thaw frozen raw chicken or turkey is in the refrigerator. Always defrost food in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave - never at room temperature. Thawing your poultry at room temperature can allow bacteria to grow.

Refrigerator

  • To thaw poultry, place it breast side up in a clean container or platter that will hold any raw juices that may leak out.
  • Place this container or platter on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent contaminating other foods in the refrigerator.
  • You should defrost poultry 24 hours for each 2.5 kg (5 pounds) of bird.
  • Cook poultry immediately after it has thawed.
  • You can safely re-freeze defrosted poultry if the meat is still cold and ice crystals are still present.

Immersion in cold water

If you choose to thaw your poultry in water it can be done in two ways:

  1. Under cold running drinking water:
    • Thoroughly clean and sanitize the sink before thawing the poultry.
    • It should be wrapped in leak-proof plastic or its original wrapping to prevent cross-contamination.
    • Run cold water on the poultry until it has thawed.
  2. Soak the poultry in cold drinking water:
    • Use a clean container to hold the poultry.
    • Wrap it in leak-proof plastic to prevent cross-contamination.
    • Place the poultry breast side down and cover with cold water.
    • Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold.
    • Keep doing this until the poultry is thawed.

Microwave

  • If you thaw by microwave, cook the poultry immediately once it has thawed.

Remember, to avoid cross-contamination, thoroughly wash your hands, and clean and sanitize the sink and all other utensils, dishes, and surfaces that come into contact with raw poultry and its juices.

Stuffing

Stuffing is moist and slow to heat up and cool down. For these reasons, stuffing provides an ideal place for bacteria to grow.

  • Cook stuffing separately in its own dish in the oven or on the stove top.
  • If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely just before roasting, and remove all stuffing right after cooking.
  • All stuffing, whether cooked separately or inside a bird, should be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C (165°F).
  • Use a digital food thermometer to check that the stuffing has reached a safe internal temperature.
  • Take all of the stuffing out of the bird immediately after cooking.

Did you know?

Colour alone is not a reliable indicator that meat is safe to eat. Cook whole poultry until the thickest part of the breast or thigh is 85ºC (185ºF)!

Cooking

  • Never eat raw or undercooked poultry.
  • When cooking turkey in a slow cooker make sure the meat reaches the proper internal temperature.
  • Cook whole birds until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast or thigh is 85ºC (185ºF) and pieces of poultry reach 74 ºC (165ºF).
  • Use a meat thermometer to take the temperature in the thickest part of the breast or thigh meat and make sure the thermometer is not touching any bones.
  • Follow the manufacturer's directions on the proper use of your specific food thermometer.
  • Always wash the food thermometer and other utensils and dishware that were used on raw or partially cooked poultry before using them to check again.
  • Due to uneven heating, microwave cooking of frozen chicken nuggets or strips is not recommended.

Leftovers

  • Refrigerate or freeze all poultry leftovers within two hours to minimize the chance of bacteria growing.
  • Divide leftovers separately into shallow containers so they cool quickly. Refrigerate it once steaming stops and leave the lid off or wrap loosely until the food is cooled to refrigerator temperature.
  • To store leftovers safely, cut and debone the meat from large cooked birds.
  • Make sure that cooked foods don't come into contact with any food that hasn't been cooked.
  • Avoid overstocking the refrigerator, so that cool air can circulate effectively.
  • Use refrigerated leftovers as soon as possible, ideally within two to four days.
  • When reheating food, make sure it's cooked to a temperature of 74°C (165°F). In general, you shouldn't reheat the same leftovers more than once.

How the Government of Canada protects you

The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.

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