Poultry safety

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Poultry and food poisoning

Poultry (turkey, chicken, frozen breaded chicken products, duck and goose) can be a great addition to your family's meals. However, poultry can cause food poisoning if it is not properly:

  • stored
  • prepared
  • cooked

Handling your poultry properly will stop bacteria from spreading to your refrigerator, counters, or utensils. Protect your family from food poisoning by following some simple tips.

Health risks

It's not unusual for raw poultry to be contaminated with Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria. Always cook your poultry to a safe internal temperature to kill bacteria.

Salmonella and Campylobacter are leading causes of bacterial food-borne illness (food poisoning) in Canada. In 2015, there were about 88,000 Salmonella and 145,000 Campylobacter illnesses.

Anyone can get sick with a Salmonella or Campylobacter infection but most people recover in a few days. However, some people are at higher risk of serious illness:

Some people could also be infected with bacteria and not get sick or show any symptoms. However, they can still spread the infection to others.

Shopping

When shopping:

  • buy cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip
  • check the "best before" date on fresh poultry
    • these dates do not guarantee the product is safe but they do indicate the freshness and potential shelf-life
  • check that the packaging isn't ripped or leaking
  • place poultry in a separate plastic bag at the bottom of the grocery cart
    • this keeps it and its juices away from other food
    • use a plastic bag from the produce section if none are available in the meat section
  • keep young children away from raw poultry in the store
  • if you use reusable grocery bags or bins, use the same bag or bin for raw poultry (label the bag)
  • wash your reusable grocery bags often, especially if you use them for carrying raw poultry

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Chilling

Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Try to keep your food out of the temperature danger zone, which is between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F). At these temperatures, bacteria can grow quickly and make you sick.

Keep your poultry safe:

  • place it in a clean container or a plastic bag to hold any leaking raw juices
  • put it in the fridge or freezer immediately away from unwrapped food
  • make sure your fridge is set at 4°C (40°F) or lower and your freezer at -18°C (0°F) or lower
  • cook fresh poultry no more than 2 to 3 days after purchasing
  • freeze it if you don't plan to cook it in 2 to 3 days
  • keep it well-wrapped in the freezer for up to 1 year

Preparing

When you are preparing poultry, bacteria can spread to other foods, surfaces or people. Follow these simple rules to avoid getting sick:

  • never rinse poultry before cooking it because the bacteria can spread wherever the water splashes
  • always wash your hands before and after you touch raw poultry
    • wash with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
    • use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available
  • use a separate plate, cutting board and tools during preparation
  • clean everything with a kitchen cleaner or bleach solution and then rinse with water
    • kitchen cleaner (follow the instructions on the container)
    • bleach solution (5 ml household bleach to 750 ml of water)
  • before and after preparing poultry, clean your:
    • tools
    • plates
    • cutting boards
    • kitchen surfaces
  • wipe kitchen surfaces with paper towels or change dishcloths daily to avoid cross-contamination
    • don't use sponges as they are harder to keep bacteria-free

Thawing

The safest way to thaw frozen raw poultry is in the fridge.

Always defrost food in the fridge, cold water or microwave. Thawing your poultry at room temperature can allow bacteria to grow.

Thawing poultry in the fridge

Follow these tips:

  • place poultry breast side up in a clean container or platter to hold any raw juices that may leak out
  • keep the container or platter on the bottom shelf of the fridge to prevent juices from leaking onto other foods
  • defrost poultry 24 hours for each 2.5 kg (5 pounds)
  • cook your poultry right away after it has thawed

You can safely re-freeze defrosted poultry if the meat is still cold (4°C (40°F) or lower).

Thawing poultry in cold water

If you choose to thaw your poultry in water, it can be done in 2 ways:

  1. Under cold running drinking water:
    • thoroughly clean and sanitize the sink before thawing the poultry
    • wrap the poultry in leak-proof plastic or keep it in its original wrapping to prevent cross-contamination
    • run cold water on the poultry until it has thawed
  2. Soak the poultry in cold drinking water:
    • use a clean container to hold the poultry
    • make sure it is wrapped in leak-proof plastic to prevent cross-contamination
    • place it breast side down and cover with cold water
    • change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold until it is thawed

Poultry thawed in cold water should be cooked right away. Cooked poultry can be frozen again after you have cut and deboned the meat.

Thawing poultry in the microwave

If you use your microwave to defrost your poultry, it can defrost unevenly. The poultry will have hot and cold spots. Cook it right away.

Use only containers, lids and wraps that are microwave-safe. Remove food from any packaging that is not safe for the microwave.

Stuffing

Stuffing is moist and slow to heat up and cool down. This makes it an ideal place for bacteria to grow.

Keep your stuffing safe by either:

  • cooking it separately in its own dish in the oven or on the stove top
    • the stuffing should reach an internal temperature of at least 74°C (165°F)
  • stuffing your poultry loosely just before roasting
    • take out the stuffing as soon as the whole bird reaches an internal temperature of 82°C (180°F)

Cooking

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Never eat poultry that is raw or not cooked enough. Follow these tips:

  • check that the temperature of the thickest part of the breast is 82°C (180°F) for whole birds and 74°C (165°F) for pieces
    • use a digital food thermometer to check the bird's internal temperature
    • make sure the thermometer does not touch a bone
    • wash your thermometer and other utensils used on raw or partially cooked poultry before using them again
  • follow the cooking instructions on frozen food that contains raw breaded poultry products, such as:
    • chicken fries, strips, burgers and nuggets
    • popcorn chicken
  • never use a microwave to cook poultry, including raw breaded poultry products
    • poultry heats unevenly
    • some parts of the chicken could be undercooked

Leftovers

Use these tips to keep your leftovers safe:

  • refrigerate or freeze all poultry leftovers within 2 hours
  • cut and debone the meat from large cooked birds
  • divide leftovers separately into shallow containers so they cool quickly
    • refrigerate once steaming stops and leave the lid off or wrap it loosely until the food is cooled
  • make sure cooked meat does not come into contact with raw meat
  • don't fill your fridge with too much food, so that cool air can circulate effectively
  • use chilled leftovers as soon as possible, within 2 to 4 days
  • if reheating, make sure the food is cooked to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F)
    • don't reheat the same leftovers more than once

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