Turkey food safety tips

December 20, 2006 in Holiday Eating

Turkey food safety tips

It's turkey time!  The approaching holidays are a time to share meals and favourite foods with family and friends and for many people that means turkey.  To ensure the turkey you are serving your family and friends is the safest possible, read on for a turkey food-safety primer.


Safe food handling starts from the minute you add your bird to the shopping cart. If buying a fresh turkey, purchase it no more than 2 days before you plan on cooking it.  If you opt for frozen, make sure it is the last item you pick up at the grocery store.  Whether you buy fresh or frozen, be sure to wrap the turkey in a plastic shopping bag to avoid potential cross contamination with other foods in your cart.   


A fresh turkey should always be cooked within 2 days of purchase.  A frozen turkey that is well wrapped can be kept in the freezer for up to one year.

Thawing a frozen turkey:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends thawing a turkey in one of two ways:

  • You can thaw a turkey in the refrigerator several days before cooking. Place the turkey on the bottom shelf of the fridge in a sealed container to avoid potential cross contamination with other foods. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds (2.5 kg).
  • The second option is to defrost your turkey in fresh water. Wrap the turkey in a leak proof plastic bag, and then run the turkey under cool running water until thawed. Alternatively you can submerge the turkey in a sink filled with cold water; be sure to change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Count on 30 minutes per pound; therefore a 16-pound turkey should thaw in approximately 8 hours.

Either way, be sure to cook the turkey as soon as thawing is complete.


Cook turkey in an oven that is at least 350°F (177°C).  The only way to ensure your turkey is thoroughly cooked is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.  Turkey must reach an internal temperature of 185°F (85°C) to avoid risk of food borne illness.  Stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).   Be sure to wash the food thermometer and other utensils that have come in contact with the partially-cooked turkey before testing the temperature again.


Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.  That means keeping foods above 140°F (60°C) or below 40°F (4°C).  The last thing you may feel like doing after eating a big meal is cleaning up, but at the very least be sure to refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours of serving time.  If you can't eat all the leftovers within 2 to 4 days, freeze the remainder.

For more information on holiday food safety, visit the following sites:

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Health Canada

BC Turkey Growers

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.