Do you know what you're doing with that turkey?

Food handling tips for the holidays

Do you know what you're doing with that turkey?
Read more

Tips on safe food handling

Healthy holiday meal recipes

Healthy leftover turkey recipes

Winnipeg Health Region
Updated Wednesday, December 19, 2012

For many people, their holiday ritual includes time with family and friends and enjoying a nice turkey dinner.

But this ritual can quickly go sour 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 Robert, 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 before 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 holiday season: when thawing your turkey and packaging up leftovers.

Thaw your bird in the fridge. Doing it on the counter is a no-no. 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. And don't forget to change the water every hour.

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," Robert says.

And don't leave leftovers out for too long after dinner. Food at room temperature is what Robert 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 they cool quickly.

And don't forget to pack smaller servings and freeze them immediately to enjoy turkey leftovers after the holidays are 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.
  • Your food needs room to be properly chilled in your fridge. An overstuffed fridge should be a temporary thing or food isn't being properly chilled.
  • 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 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. Robert 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.

If you don't have a meat thermometer, Robert recommends a digital instant read thermometer, or an ovenproof one, which can be stuck into the turkey (or roast, chicken, casseroles or meatloaf) and you can 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.

Tips on safe food handling

Healthy holiday meal recipes

Eating healthy over the holidays doesn't have to be difficult. Click here to read about how to eat, drink and be healthy.

If you've been trying to find healthy recipes to service this holiday season, search no more. We have several healthy, scrumptious options for you to consider:

Healthy leftover turkey recipes

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

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