The Huron County Health Unit encourages everyone to focus on safe food handling practices as they prepare Thanksgiving meals.
“We want people to enjoy their celebrations and reduce their risk of foodborne illnesses,” says Public Health Inspector Jessica Van Geffen.
An outbreak of salmonella infections is being investigated by the Public Health Agency of Canada along with provincial and territorial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada. Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to raw turkey and raw chicken products has been identified as the likely source of the outbreak.
“Remember to always handle raw turkey and raw chicken carefully, and cook it thoroughly to prevent foodborne illnesses like salmonella,” says Van Geffen.
Thawing and preparing turkey can be challenging. Van Geffen recommends storing turkey in a refrigerator at 4° C or lower, or a freezer, immediately after it is purchased.
“Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator takes time but is the safest way to thaw,” she says. “It should take one day of thawing for every 1.8 kg (4 lbs.) of turkey. Or you can thaw in cold running water in the sink.”
The Health Unit also recommends cooking stuffing outside the turkey in a separate dish.
“As a turkey cooks, its juices run into the stuffing and these juices may contain salmonella bacteria,” says Van Geffen. “Often the stuffing does not reach a safe temperature to kill the bacteria.”
If you do stuff the bird, use a probe thermometer to make sure the middle of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum temperature of 74° C (165 ° F). If it hasn’t, put the stuffing back in the oven to continue cooking.
Cook food to a safe internal temperature. For a whole turkey or chicken you want to cook to 82° C (180° F). Insert a probe food thermometer into the thickest part of the food to test whether food is thoroughly cooked. For a turkey, stick the probe thermometer in the meatiest part of the thigh.
Whether your turkey is raw or cooked, it should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Foodborne bacteria grows rapidly in this temperature “danger zone” (between 4° C and 60° C).
Here are other ways to help ensure a safe Thanksgiving meal:
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Clean cutting boards, utensils, and countertops with warm water and dish soap. Rinse and sanitize with mild bleach mixture.
- Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your grocery bag, refrigerator and countertops. Use separate cutting boards.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from food items that won’t be cooked.
- Keep the fridge at 4°C (40°F) or below.
- Divide leftovers into small portions, put in shallow containers and store in the refrigerator to quickly cool. Chill leftovers within two hours.
- Use leftovers within two to three days or freeze them and use within two to six months.
- Reheat leftovers to 74° C (165 ° F).
More information on food safety can be found on the Health Unit website, www.huronhealthunit.ca.