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Let's talk turkey - food safety tips for the season

Traditional turkey dinner for Christmas; Photo, gouk.about.com

‘Tis the season for filling your home with the smells of home baked goodies, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and the Christmas turkey roasting in the oven. It’s also the season for making sure your turkey is cooked properly and is free from any illness-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella.

Interior Health recommends holiday chefs follow these simple food safety tips for preparing your holiday meals:

Store and thaw safely: Keep fresh turkey refrigerated no longer than three days before cooking. There are three ways to thaw frozen turkey in its wrapper:
• Under cold running water (one hour per pound);
• In a clean sink full of cold water, changing the water every couple of hours;
• In the fridge (five hours per pound).

Thawing poultry at room temperature will allow harmful bacteria to grow and is not recommended. Be sure to keep other items, especially those with dairy, mayonnaise or other moist, protein-rich foods chilled until served.

Clean carefully: Wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces well before prep work begins. Once the preparation work is done, clean surfaces in hot soapy water, rinse, then sanitize. Sanitizing can be done with a diluted bleach solution (30 ml of bleach per gallon of water) that is allowed to sit for two minutes. Wash your hands well after cleaning the cutting board and before and after working with any new menu items.

Avoid cross contamination: Store meat away from food that is ready-to-eat, including fruit and vegetables (and be sure to wash these thoroughly before serving). Turkeys should be wrapped well and stored on the lowest shelf of your fridge or in the meat keeper to keep blood and juices from contaminating other food. Use a separate cutting board to prepare raw meat whenever possible.

Cook well: For turkey, set the oven at no lower than 350 F (177 C) and cook for about 20 minutes per pound. Use a good meat thermometer to measure the turkey’s internal temperature and ensure it’s safe to eat - 165 F (74C) or 185 F (85 C) for a stuffed bird. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or thigh. Cooked food should be kept at 140 F (60 C) while waiting to serve.

Refrigerate: Chill food immediately after returning from the store and soon after dinner is complete. Perishable food should be left unrefrigerated for no longer than two hours after you remove it from the oven. Refrigerate at 40F (4 C) or in a freezer at 0 F (-18 C). Health Canada recommends two to three days for refrigerated leftovers or simply freezing them in order to keep them longer.

From all of us at Interior Health, we wish you a happy – and healthy – holiday season!