BEYOND LOCAL: How to avoid food-borne illness this Thanksgiving

The University of Guelph expert shares tips for every stage of preparing a turkey, from proper storage and preparation to how to safely prepare leftovers

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends for a feast, but the day can also bring a dose of foodborne illness if precautions aren’t taken, says a University of Guelph food scientist.

dr Keith Warriner is a professor in the Department of Food Science at Ontario Agricultural College, specializing in the prevention of foodborne illness. It addresses ways to decontaminate poultry and validate cooking instructions for commercial poultry products.

Raw turkey can become contaminated with various microbes, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringen, and Staphylococcus aureus, all of which can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal illness. The latter can produce a poison that cannot be destroyed by cooking.

Warriner has several tips for every stage of preparing a turkey, from proper storage and preparation to how to safely prepare leftovers.

Is it safer to buy fresh or frozen?

If you choose fresh turkey, plan to buy the bird no more than three days before your meal and store it at the bottom of the fridge, says Warriner.

“Don’t put the turkey on the top shelf, as the juices containing harmful microbes can drip onto the food below,” he explains.

It’s common to buy frozen turkey, but remember to pop it in a freezer as soon as you get home. In the car, it can partially thaw and encourage microbial growth, he says.

What is the best way to defrost a turkey?

“Frozen turkey takes time to thaw, and care must be taken to ensure the bird’s temperature doesn’t fall into the danger zone of four to 63 degrees Celsius (39.2 to 145.4 Fahrenheit),” says Warriner.

He cautions against thawing turkey on the counter or in the refrigerator, as it doesn’t thaw completely and can lead to salmonella, campylobacter and S. aureus.

“The safest method of thawing is to place the frozen turkey in its wrapper in a sink of cold water,” explains Warriner. “The water helps thaw the turkey safely and quickly while keeping the surface cool enough to prevent microbial growth.”

Tips on preparing a turkey for cooking?

Warriner warns against washing part of defrosted turkey in the sink, tempting as it may be. Instead, the turkey should be unpacked in a nearby area that is easy to sanitize.

Stuffing should also be avoided because it insulates the turkey and prevents hot air from cooking the inside of the turkey, Wariner says. Instead, the filling should be cooked on the stovetop or baked in an oven.

All prep tools should be washed with a chlorine solution – one capful of bleach per five liters of water is enough – to kill any pathogens.

What is the best way to prepare a turkey?

Turkeys take a long time to cook and must reach a temperature of 73 degrees Celsius (163.4 Fahrenheit) to be fully cooked (15 minutes of cook time per pound).

Warriner recommends using a meat thermometer inserted into the coldest part of the bird (i.e., mid-thigh) to prevent overcooking, “whether you’re using an oven, air fryer, rotisserie, or even deep fryer “.

What’s the safest way to carve a turkey?

Turkeys need to rest for 15 to 30 minutes before carving, but no longer than two hours at room temperature because Clostridium perfringens can multiply and cause food poisoning, Warriner says.

Always use a different cutting board than the one you used for raw turkey, he adds. After the turkey has been carved, it should be kept warm in the oven or refrigerated throughout the meal.

What to do with leftovers?

“Though you might prefer to sleep in after the big dinner, it’s important to put leftovers in the fridge to stop pathogen growth,” says Warriner.

He advises eating leftovers within five days, although they can be frozen in sliced ​​portions for up to three months.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *