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Let’s talk turkey to keep your holiday dinner safe

Vancouver – Turkey is an important part of many holiday celebrations and the BC Centre for Disease Control has some tips to help you prepare turkey safely.

Proper food handling is especially important because turkey can be contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella. Salmonella can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and can also lead to more serious complications, especially in infants and the elderly. As many as 650,000 people become ill due to foodborne illness in BC each year.

The following steps can reduce the risk of getting sick from turkey:

  • Buy safely: At the store, always put the turkey in a plastic bag separate from other foods as leaking turkey juices could contaminate those foods. Once home, immediately store the turkey in a sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Thaw: Ideally, frozen turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator. Allow about one day of thawing time per 2 kg (5 pounds) of turkey. Thawing in a sealed plastic bag under cold running water is also acceptable. Once thawed, it must be stored in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Never thaw your turkey at room temperature.
  • Separate: Ensure there is no cross contamination in the kitchen by keeping raw poultry separate from other foods. If possible, make any ready to eat foods, such as salad or raw vegetable platters, before you prepare your turkey.
  • Clean: Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any food. After preparing the turkey, wash the counter, utensils and cutting boards with warm soapy water and then sanitize with a bleach solution before doing anything else in the kitchen. To make a bleach solution, combine 5 ml (1 teaspoon) bleach with 1 litre (4 cups) of water.
  • Marinate properly: Many people now marinate their turkey before cooking. Marinating should always be done in the refrigerator. As well, if you intend to use the marinade later, it must be heated to boiling to make it safe to eat.
  • Cook: Whichever cooking method you use, always use a meat thermometer to ensure that the turkey is cooked. The minimum meat temperature should be at least 74C or hotter, taken in the thickest part of the thigh and with the thermometer not touching a bone. If the turkey is stuffed, then the stuffing must also be 74C or hotter. To improve food safety, cook stuffing outside of the turkey in a casserole dish.
  • Chill: Break up leftover carcasses into smaller pieces. Separate foods such as gravy and stuffing, and put all leftovers into the refrigerator no more than two hours after serving. Never leave leftovers to cool overnight on the counter before putting into the fridge.

Learn more:
Food safety bulletin

Safe turkey thawing

Mr. Lynn Wilcott, Food Safety Specialist, BCCDC
“The holidays are a great time for people to get together and share a turkey dinner. It’s important to learn how to handle poultry properly so that you and your family can stay safe and enjoy the feast.”

BCCDC is an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, a specialist in prevention. PHSA is committed to sharing expertise and knowledge to promote health and prevent illness, manage chronic conditions and lessen the burden of disease in high risk populations. BCCDC provides provincial and national leadership in public health through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services.

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For more information or to arrange an interview:

Media Contact:

Patrick Blennerhassett
Communications Officer
Provincial Health Services Authority
Media pager: 604-871-5699

Last Updated: January 14, 2013