Your Health

Don't be a turkey!

Food safety tips for Thanksgiving

Food safety tips for Thanksgiving
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Tips on safe food handling

How to prepare a turkey

Recipe: Slow Cooker Root Vegetables

Recipe: Pumpkin Potato Soup

Recipe: Turkey Pot Pie

Recipe: Turkey Tetrazzini

Recipe: Roast Turkey Wrap

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Thursday October 7, 2010

Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends and a nice turkey dinner.

But the good times can quickly turn bad if the food is not handled and prepared properly.

Every year, thousands of Canadians suffer from food-borne illness caused by various types of bacteria. One of the most common sources of trouble is the salmonella bacteria, which is commonly found in turkeys and chicken.

Fortunately, food-borne illness can be avoided if food is handled properly, according to health experts with the Winnipeg Health Region.

The key, they say, can be boiled down to four words: clean, chill, separate and cook.


Washing your hands before touching or handling food is a must. But did you wash your hands after you answered your phone, threw that load of laundry in the dryer, washed dishes or touched your pet? You should.

"Wash your hands and surfaces often. If you get interrupted, wash your hands before you return to food," says Marni McFadden, a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region.

It's also important to wash your hands when you switch between different foods. After handling raw meat and peeling those carrots, wash your hands to prevent cross contamination.

A few things to keep in mind about cleaning:

  • Don't forget to keep your utensils clean and use separate cutting boards for raw meat and fruits or vegetables
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables, even those you're going to peel. Washing that squash before you cut into it rids it of contaminants.
  • Don't wash meat before you prepare it and cook it. This isn't recommended because it can spread bacteria throughout kitchen surfaces. If you were planning to put your turkey in the sink to wash it out, you don't need to.


Two areas to keep in mind with respect to chilling this Thanksgiving: when thawing your turkey and packaging up leftovers.

Thaw your bird in the fridge. Doing it on the counter is a no-no and a short cold water bath is your next option if you're short for time. Do not run hot water in the sink to thaw your turkey.

Allow 10 hours per kg (5 hours per pound) if you're thawing your turkey in the fridge. If you are thawing by immersing it in cold water, allow 2 hours per kg (1 hour per pound).

"If it's a really big bird you'll need about three days to safely thaw it in the fridge. Never defrost foods at room temperature," she says.

And don't leave leftovers out for too long after dinner. Food at room temperature is what McFadden refers to as the danger zone. "Food should not be left at the danger zone for more than two hours. That's the perfect temperature for bacteria to grow at," she says.

When you're packaging your leftovers, do so quickly after dinner so food can get back in the fridge and you can enjoy it again. Package food in smaller containers so cooling them won't take very long.

And don't forget to pack smaller servings and freeze them immediately to enjoy turkey leftovers long after Thanksgiving is done. Why?

You may be shocked but enjoying a turkey sandwich a week after your family meal could make you sick. In fact, says McFadden, your turkey leftovers should only be in the fridge for two or three days, max.

"Don't leave turkey leftovers in there for a week. That is not the ideal situation. You can't tell if food is bad by smelling it or looking at it. By the time you see mould or food smells bad, there are billions of bacteria in there," she says. "If in doubt, throw it out."

A few things to keep in mind about cooling:

  • Your fridge should be set at 4°C and above the point of freezing to appropriately cool your food.
  • Use the two hour rule when hauling grocery shopping home. Refrigerate or freeze perishables within two hours of purchasing or preparation.
  • Turkey leftovers are good in the fridge for two or three days. If you freeze them, they're good for six months.


Juice from uncooked meat poses a health risk. Your primary focus is trying to avoid having other foods come into contact with the juices from the meat. That's why it's a good idea to avoid piling meat on top of produce in your grocery cart, keep these foods separate in your grocery bags and to store meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge in a container with a lip on it (to avoid dripping on other foods).

To stuff or not to stuff? At one point experts suggested it wasn't healthy to cook your stuffing in your turkey. McFadden says the key is cooking your stuffing to the appropriate temperature (165°F or 74°C when you insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the stuffing) and removing it immediately when you take the turkey from the oven.

A few things to keep in mind about separating:

  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and produce.
  • Sanitize your cutting boards after using them. Wash them first in hot soapy water, followed by a mild bleach solution: use 1 teaspoon of bleach to 3 cups of water, and then rinse.
  • Your dishwasher can also sanitize your plastic cutting boards.
  • Do not double dip. If you sample something while you're cooking, grab another spoon.
  • Same goes for platters that go on your table. Discourage your guests from double dipping.


Your turkey needs to have an internal temperature of 185°F or 85°C when you insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone.

Don't have a meat thermometer?

McFadden recommends a digital instant read thermometer, or an oven proof one, which can be stuck into the turkey (or roast, chicken, casseroles or meatloaf) and you can just keep checking to see when it reaches the appropriate temperature.

And those leftovers? Make sure they're heated to at least 165°F. Cold turkey sandwiches - provided they've been stored in an appropriately cooled fridge - are safe to eat.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Root Vegetables

Serves 6


6 potatoes, cut into large chunks
3 carrots, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
2 onions, quartered
1 cup vegetables or chicken stock
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Combine all vegetables into a slow cooker.

2. In a small bowl, combine broth, vinegar, salt and pepper, mixing well. Pour over vegetables.

3. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-6 hours. Stir every hour.

Recipe: Pumpkin Potato Soup

Serves 4


1 lb pumpkin, chopped
2 leeks, sliced
4 potatoes, diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup 1% milk
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large saucepan, add pumpkin, leeks, potatoes and stock.

2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 25 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft and tender.

3. In a blender or food processor, process until smooth.

4. Return to saucepan and add milk and season with salt and pepper.

5. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes.

Leftover turkey is the perfect addition to recipes you and your family can enjoy long after your Thanksgiving celebration is over. If you've frozen portions of cooked turkey, they're safe to consume six months after Thanksgiving. Consider these healthy, delicious recipes as ways to creatively use leftover turkey.

Recipe: Turkey Pot Pie

Serves 6

This recipe will help you use up your leftover turkey, gravy and vegetables.


1 Tbsp unsalted butter or margarine
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
½ cup leftover cooked vegetables
1 ½ cups cooked turkey, diced
1 - 1 ¼ cup gravy
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (or 1/8 tsp dried)
¼ cup frozen peas, thawed
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)


½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 Tbsp margarine or unsalted butter
6 Tbsp milk

1. Melt margarine (butter) with olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until golden, 7-8 minutes.

2. Add sliced mushrooms. Saute until browned and tender, about 4 minutes.

3. Add sliced carrots. Cover and cook until carrots soften slightly, about 2 minutes.

4. Add leftover vegetables, diced turkey, gravy and thyme. Bring filling mixture to a boil.

5. Reduce heat to low and simmer to thicken if necessary.

6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in peas and parsley.

7. With non-stick vegetable spray, coat a 9x9 baking dish. Pour filling into baking dish. Set aside.

8. Combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in margarine (butter) until crumble-like consistency.

9. Add milk. Stir to form a soft ball. If too dry, add a bit more milk.

10. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface slightly larger than the baking dish. Place dough over the top of the turkey mixture, pressing against the edge all around.

11. Prick through the top of crust in several places with a fork.

12. Bake at 425 F for approximately 20 minutes. Crust will be browned and filling will be bubbling.

Recipe: Turkey Tetrazzini

Serves 5

340 g fettucini
½ Tbsp butter or margarine
1 ½ cup celery, chopped
1 cup green pepper, chopped
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup flour
2 cups 1% milk
½ cup part skim mozzarella cheese, grated
½ tsp marjoram
Pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked turkey, chopped
½ cup parmesan cheese

1. Cook noodles according to the package directions; place in a greased baking dish.

2. In a non-stick frying pan, melt butter (margarine), add vegetables, and cook until tender.

3. Add flour and gradually add milk, stirring constantly.

4. Stir and cook until smooth and thick.

5. Add mozzarella cheese, seasonings and turkey.

6. Cook at low heat, stirring until the cheese has melted.

7. Pour this sauce over the noodles.

8. Mix well and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

9. Bake at 250 F 10-12 minutes.

Recipe: Roast Turkey Wrap

Serves 4

1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 red onion
1 jalapeno pepper (optional)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp cracked peppercorns
Salt, to taste
1 tsp garlic, minced
2 cups cooked turkey, diced
4 tortillas (10-inch)
Shredded cheese (Monterey jack or cheddar), to taste
Salsa and sour cream, to taste

1. Slice onions and peppers into ½ inch strips. If using jalapeno pepper, cut into thin rings.

2. Toss pepper and onion with olive oil, vinegar and seasonings. Roast at 450 F for 15 minutes. Add turkey and roast 5 minutes more.

3. Evenly divide turkey mixture onto each tortilla and top with shredded cheese. Fold in both sides, and roll the tortilla up.

4. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

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The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority acknowledges that it provides health services in facilities located in Treaty One and Treaty Five territories, the homelands of the Métis Nation and the original lands of the Inuit people. The WRHA respects and acknowledges harms and mistakes, and we dedicate ourselves to collaborate in partnership with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people in the spirit of reconciliation.
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