Health Canada: Food Safety Tips for Thanksgiving

It is a tradition in many Canadian homes to serve poultry (turkey, chicken and duck) at Thanksgiving. However, if poultry isn’t prepared, cooked or stored properly, you and your family could be in danger of getting food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness). While cooking poultry to the proper internal temperature kills harmful bacteria in the food, it doesn’t help control bacteria that may have spread around your kitchen while the food was being prepared or stored. Follow these safety tips to help protect you and your family.

What you should know

Poultry poses particular food safety challenges because it can be contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella, which can cause food poisoning. Symptoms of food poisoning can include diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. It’s estimated that there are approximately 4 million cases of food poisoning in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.

What you should do

Clean, separate, cook and chill: Follow these four key food safety steps when preparing your meal to reduce the risk of getting sick from undercooked poultry and stuffing, and from cross-contamination in your kitchen.


  • Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry.
  • Clean and sanitize the sink, surfaces and kitchen utensils after handling raw or thawing poultry and its juices.
  • You can make your own cleaning spray by mixing 5 ML (1 teaspoon) of household bleach with 750 mL (3 cups) of water. Pour the mixture into a clean, labelled spray bottle. Spray the mixture on kitchen counters, tables, taps, sinks and appliances (including fridge door handles). Wipe with a clean cloth or paper towel. Clean utensils in hot soapy water then spray them with the cleaning spray. Let them sit for a minute. Then rinse thoroughly and let them air dry.


  • Store your poultry in a leak-proof bag or container in the refrigerator or freezer immediately after you buy it.
  • Thawing your poultry at room temperature is discouraged. It’s better to thaw it in the refrigerator or in cold water.
  • If you thaw your poultry in cold water, keep it in its original wrapping and change the cold water regularly to ensure that the water remains cold.
  • Don’t rinse raw poultry before cooking it. This can spread bacteria everywhere the water splashes and puts you at risk of getting food poisoning.


  • Use a digital food thermometer and cook whole poultry until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 85°C (185°F) to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Cook stuffing separately in its own dish or on the stove top. If you do stuff your turkey, stuff loosely just prior to roasting and remove all stuffing immediately after cooking. Cook stuffing to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C (165°F).

Refer to the following for safe cooking temperatures:

Whole Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)………85°C (185°F)

Poultry Pieces (chicken, turkey, duck)………74°C (165°F)

Stuffing in poultry……………………………….74°C (165°F)

Safe cooking in a crock pot

  • It is safe to cook poultry in a crock pot (slow cooker) as long as the meat reaches a safe internal temperature. Thaw the poultry completely before cooking. Placing frozen poultry directly in a slow cooker puts you at risk of food poisoning because it will take a long time to reach a safe internal temperature.


  • Bacteria can grow quickly on food left at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers after they have cooled, but within two hours of cooking. Foods such as fully cooked poultry and potatoes can be eaten cold. If you are reheating your leftovers, reheat them to 74°C (165°F) or warmer until steamy throughout. Gravy should be reheated to a full boil.
  • You can safely re-freeze poultry that has not been fully defrosted if the meat is still cold and ice crystals are present.

(Source: Health Canada)