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Answers to Your Holiday Food Safety Questions

December 22, 2015 by Adrienne Ngai, Registered Dietitian

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Holiday Food Safety

The holidays are a special time to spend with loved ones and for many, an opportunity to exercise their culinary skills.

Whether you’re experimenting with new recipes or re-creating tried and true family favourites, it’s important to avoid spoiling the fun with food-borne illness.

Here are answers to some common food safety questions to help keep everyone healthy.

How do I thaw frozen turkey, chicken, and other meats?

Thawing food prevents uneven cooking. There are three ways you can do it safely:

1. Refrigeration: this is the safest option. Keep the breast side up for poultry and lay the meat or poultry in a clean container or platter to hold raw juices. Place the meat or poultry on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent contamination of other foods in the fridge. Allow 24 hours to thaw every 2.5 kilograms (5 pounds) of poultry or meat.

2. Cold Water Immersion:

  • Under cold running drinking water: clean and sanitize the sink prior to thawing. To prevent cross-contamination, wrap the poultry or meat in leak-proof plastic or keep it in its original wrapping. Run cold water over the poultry or meat until it has defrosted.
  • Soaking in cold drinking water: wrap the poultry or meat in leak-proof plastic or keep it in its original wrapping, then place it in a clean container. Cover the poultry and meat with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold until thawed.

3. Microwave: remove the packaging and place the poultry or meat in a microwave safe container. Follow thawing instructions from the microwave owner’s manual.

Remember! Never thaw foods on the kitchen counter because bacteria can grow in warmer temperatures. Never rinse poultry or other meats before cooking as bacteria can spread from the water splashes. Use different cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and foods that are not further cooked so that they are not cross-contaminated.

How can I be sure food is cooked to a safe temperature?

Check the temperature by using an instant-read thermometer. Insert it into the thickest part of the food (away from bone, fat or cartilage). Make sure these internal temperatures are met to kill harmful bacteria:

  • 82°C (180°F) for whole poultry. Learn how to cook a turkey here.
  • 74°C (165°F) for stuffing, casseroles, leftovers, egg dishes, pieces of poultry and ground turkey and ground chicken, including sausages containing poultry meat.
  • 71°C (160°F) for pork chops, ribs and roasts and for ground beef, ground pork and ground veal, including sausages.
  • At least 63°C (145°F) for all whole muscle beef and veal cuts, like steaks and roasts.

Note: Wash the thermometer and any utensils used between temperature checks.

How do I store leftovers?

  • Perishable foods (such as cheese and meat platters, cut fruits and veggies and cooked foods) that have been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours should be composted or thrown out.
  • Remove the bone from turkey, chicken or meat and divide into smaller portions before storing.  Leftover poultry can be used to make turkey tortellini soup or Thai turkey stir fry. Check out other ideas here.
  • Place leftovers in uncovered, shallow containers so they cool quickly and store in the fridge or freezer. Cover the food as soon as it is cooled to fridge temperature.
  • Use leftovers within two to three days or freeze immediately for later use (wrap food in heavy foil or use containers or bags designed for freezing food). Check out this storage chart to learn more about how long different foods can be refrigerated and frozen.
  • Uneaten reheated leftovers should be composted or thrown out.

Don’t rely on the look, smell or taste of food to tell you whether or not it’s safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out! Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water before handling foods, especially before and after handling raw food. Check out the Government of Canada’s General Food Safety Tips for more information about food safety.

If you have more questions about safe food handling feel free to dial 8-1-1 and speak with a HealthLink BC Registered Dietitian, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Related blogs:
How to Cook a Turkey

Recommended resources:
Food Safety – Store it Right
Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education: Storage Chart
Health Canada: General Food Safety Tips

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