Talking Turkey

Christine Hennebury
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Thanksgiving dinner is an icon of the dining room. A few simple steps will make sure full bellies and happy smiles are your meal's only result.

Due to the number of warnings about potential hazards, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey can be nerve-racking for both novice and experienced cooks. But with good preparation and careful planning, food related hazards can be greatly reduced.

According to Paul Duschene, a spokesman for Health Canada, "It is estimated that there are between 11 million and 13 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques."

Due to the number of warnings about potential hazards, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey can be nerve-racking for both novice and experienced cooks. But with good preparation and careful planning, food related hazards can be greatly reduced.

According to Paul Duschene, a spokesman for Health Canada, "It is estimated that there are between 11 million and 13 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques."

One of the main concerns with Thanksgiving meals is the central feature. "Turkey poses particular food-safety challenges," Duschene advises "because it can be contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps."

Tara Antle, a nutrition and wellness consultant who works with Simply for Life, advises that cooks can keep their Thanksgiving feast safe by ensuring they keep work surfaces clean, avoid cross-contamination, keep foods at appropriate temperatures, and store and reheat leftovers properly.

She recommends that meats and other foods be stored separately, and separate utensils must be used for each type of food and cleaned before being used again. When dealing with meats, she suggests that work surfaces and cloths should be treated with a mild bleach solution (1 tsp bleach in 3 cups of water).

Antle reminds cooks to keep their hot food hot, and their cold food cold, perhaps even using bowls of ice to chill salads or warmers to keep hot items at a good temperature to avoid putting food into the temperature "danger zone."

"The danger zone ... ranges from 4 C to 60 C. You don't want food to be at that temperature for more than two hours or too much bacteria can grow."

She also advises that meats, prepared foods or leftovers cannot be stored indefinitely. Refrigerated foods generally have a three- to five-day window for safe food storage, but some foods, like turkey, have a shorter safe period (two to four days). After that time, too much bacteria has built up to for the food to be safe for consumption. And if food is frozen after three days, the bacteria goes dormant but remains on the food, so once thawed, the food still has to be consumed within a day or two in order to be safe.

To sum up food safety, Antle quotes the Canada Food Inspection Agency: "Prepare food quickly, cook thoroughly and serve promptly."

And she reminds everyone to err on the side of caution when it comes to food.

"You can't tell if food is gone bad by texture, taste or looks. It needs to fall in that safe time frame, and, if in doubt, throw it out."

Guidelines

Tara Antle, B.Sc, AHN, RHN, RNCP recommends the following guidelines for a safe Thanksgiving feast:

Buying and thawing a turkey

Check the best before date to make sure to get the freshest turkey.

Keep your turkey cold at the supermarket, pick it up last.

Put the turkey in a plastic bag to keep juices from contaminating other items in the cart.

A well-wrapped turkey can be frozen for up to one year.

Thaw a turkey in a shallow pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for four to six days, allowing about 24 hours per five pounds of turkey.

If parts of the turkey are still frozen when it is time to cook it, wrap the turkey in plastic (to contain the juices) and then run cold water over it to thaw it the rest of the way.

NEVER thaw a turkey on the countertop; it can too easily breed bacteria.

Safely preparing and cooking the turkey

Never slow cook a turkey. Cook it at temperatures no lower than 177 C or 350 F.

Use separate utensils for turkey and other dishes to avoid cross contamination.

Wash tools before using them again, even during the same cooking period.

For maximum safety, cook stuffing outside the turkey. When cooked inside the turkey, stuffing will absorb juices and may not reach a safe temperature for those juices to cook properly.

Near the end of the cooking period, insert thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or thigh to ensure that the internal temperature has reached a minimum of 85 C or 185 F.

Do not leave turkey and other foods in the temperature "danger zone" for more than two hours.

Leftovers

Do not place large containers of hot food in the refrigerator; escaping steam can heat surrounding foods to dangerous temperatures.

Refrigerate leftovers in uncovered, shallow dishes until completely cool and then cover them.

Keep dairy products and other highly perishable foods away from cooling dishes in the refrigerator.

Remove meat from the bone and store in a separate container than the vegetables.

When reheating, ensure that foods reach an internal temperature of 70 C (165 F) and bring leftover gravy to a full rolling boil and stir.

Organizations: Health Canada, Canada Food Inspection Agency

Geographic location: Canada

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments