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Turkey Food Safety Tips

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Food plays a significant role in many celebrations. Turkey is often served at these events. It is always important to follow safe food-handling practices to prevent harmful bacteria from spreading and causing foodborne illness.

At the grocery store

  • Buy cold foods at the end of your shopping.
  • Check the "best before" date on fresh turkeys, because this tells you how fresh the turkey is.
  • Place the turkey 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.


  • Refrigerate or freeze the turkey immediately when you get home from the store.
  • Place the turkey in a clean container or a plastic bag that will hold any leaking raw juices.
  • Cook fresh turkey within no more than two days of purchasing. If you do not intend to cook it within this time, it should be frozen.
  • Frozen, well-wrapped turkeys can be safely kept in the freezer for up to one year.


Frozen whole turkey can be thawed safely in the refrigerator or in cold water. Never thaw your turkey at room temperature because this can lead to bacteria growing on the turkey.


  • Place the turkey breast side up in a clean container or platter that will hold any raw juices that leak out of the turkey.
  • Place this container or platter on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent contaminating other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Allow one day per 1.8 kg (4 lbs) of turkey for thawing.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after it has thawed.

Immersion in cold water

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

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

When thawing, allow one hour of defrosting time for each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of turkey. Cook the turkey immediately after it has thawed!

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


Cross-contamination can be a major challenge when preparing several different dishes at the same time. Cross-contamination happens when harmful bacteria are spread between people, food, surfaces, and/or equipment.

To avoid cross-contamination:

  • Keep the raw turkey and its raw juices away from other food to prevent foodborne bacteria from spreading in your kitchen and contaminating other food.
  • Use separate dishes and utensils for raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food.
  • Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry.
  • Rinsing raw turkey is not necessary and it can spread bacteria wherever the water runs and splashes, creating a risk of foodborne illness.
  • Clean and disinfect kitchen surfaces and utensils that have come into contact with raw or partially cooked food, turkey and its raw juices.



  • Never slowcook a turkey! Cook it in the oven until it reaches a minimal internal temperature of 85°C (185°F).
  • Use a digital food thermometer to ensure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature. Colour alone is not a reliable indicator that meat is safe to eat.
  • 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 foods before using them to check foods again.


  • Cook stuffing separately in the oven in its own dish, 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.
  • Stuffing should be cooked 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.


  • Serve the turkey and stuffing immediately.
  • Keep food out of the danger zone, which is between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F) to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Keep hot food hot with warming trays, chafing dishes or crock pots, at a temperature of at least 60°C (140°F).
  • Keep cold food cold at 4°C (40°F) or lower by placing serving dishes on crushed ice.

Pre-cooked, stuffed turkey

  • If you choose to serve a pre-cooked, stuffed turkey which is purchased hot, make sure that it is kept at a temperature of at least 60°C (140°F) and that you eat it within two hours of buying it.
  • Remove the stuffing if you are not going to eat it within this time. Refrigerate both stuffing and turkey to 4°C (40°F) or lower, as soon as possible.

Remember not to add new food to a serving dish that has been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours. Change the dish and your serving utensils.


When travelling with food, certain precautions should be taken to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Hot food

Wrap hot food in foil and heavy towels, or carry in insulated containers to maintain a temperature of at least 60°C (140°F).

Cold food

Store cold foods in a cooler with ice or freezer packs to maintain the temperature at 4°C (40°F) or below. Full coolers keep their temperature better than partially full ones, so add extra insulation to take up unoccupied space.


Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours to minimize the chance of bacteria growing.

  • Divide leftovers into shallow containers so they cool quickly. Refrigerate them once steaming stops and leave the lid off or wrap loosely until the food is cooled to refrigerator temperature.
  • Store turkey meat separately from stuffing and gravy.
  • Use leftover turkey meat, bones, stuffing, gravy and other cooked dishes within four days or freeze right away for later use.
  • Avoid overstocking the refrigerator, so that cool air can circulate effectively.
  • Reheat solid leftovers, such as turkey and potatoes, to at least 74°C (165°F). Bring gravy to a full, rolling boil and stir a few times while reheating.

What the Government of Canada does to keep our food supply safe

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.

For more information on food safety, please visit Health Canada's Web site, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Web site and the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education's Be Food Safe Canada program.