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Food safety during the holidays

Foodborne illness, or "food poisoning," is caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses that contaminate the food you eat. Health Canada estimates that there are 2 million cases of foodborne illnesses in Canada each year.

Most of the time, foodborne illness is caused by improper food handling or food preparation. Keep your family from getting sick this holiday season by following these smart food safety practices.

Stay food safe this holiday season and all year long


Check out Health Canada's Holiday Food Safety Tips for info on how to prepare and serve a holiday buffet, travelling with food, what you need to know about cooking stuffing, and more


Quick tips

  • STUFFING. It’s safest to cook stuffing separately in its own dish. If you decide to cook stuffing in your turkey, stuff loosely just before going into the oven and remove stuffing from the turkey immediately after it’s cooked. Stuffing must be cooked to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).
  • SERVING FOOD. When serving food, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If food remains at room temperature for more than two hours, throw it away.
  • LEFTOVERS. Refrigerate all leftovers promptly. Use leftovers within two to three days or freeze right away.
  • WHO'S AT HIGHER RISK? Seniors, pregnant women, children and people with weakened immune systems should avoid raw eggs, fish or seafood (e.g., oysters).


Prepare your turkey safely


Bacteria can be found on any food, unless you follow these four simple steps:
  1. Chill promptly
  2. Clean your hands and kitchen surfaces often
  3. Separate, don’t cross-contaminate
  4. Cook thoroughly

Turkey, like all meats, must be kept hot or cold. Bacteria tend to grow in a danger zone between 40 °F and 140°F (4°C and 60°C).

Make sure that raw or cooked turkey is refrigerated below 40°F (4°C), and when re-heating, take it to the safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Time and temperature are closely related to controlling bacteria growth. Raw or cooked turkey should not be held in the danger zone for more than two hours.

Store food safely


If you have purchased a fresh whole turkey, remove giblets and refrigerate in a covered container on the lowest shelf for use within 2-3 days.

Whole turkeys can be kept frozen for one year, parts of turkey for 6 months. Once thawed, treat as fresh turkey and do not refreeze until cooked.

Ground turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for one day, in the freezer for 2-3 months

Cooked meats of cold cuts should be used within 3-4 days after they are placed in the refrigerator, and 2-3 months after being placed in the freezer.

Thaw turkey safely


Refrigerator method

  • Keeps the meat cold until it is completely defrosted
  • Place turkey on a tray on a bottom shelf in refrigerator
  • Allow 5 hours per pound (10 hrs /Kg)

Cold water method

  • In large container cover turkey completely with cold water
  • Change water at least every hour
  • Allow 1 hour per pound (2 hrs /kg)

After cooking, keep the turkey hot, above 140°F (60°C), or refrigerate below 40°F (4°C). Do not leave at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

How to prepare turkey for the oven 

  • Always wash hands thoroughly in warm soapy water before preparing foods and handling raw meat.
  • Remove plastic wrap from thawed turkey
  • Remove neck and giblet from body cavity
  • Washing/rinsing meat and poultry prior to cooking is not necessary and may promote cross-contamination.
  • Do not let raw meat or juices tough ready-to-eat foods either in the refrigerator or during preparation.
  • Do not put cooked foods on the same plate that held raw meat.
  • Keep cutting board and utensils in good repair as they can harbour bacteria inside crevices.  


How to safely roast a whole turkey

  • Pre-heat oven to 325°F (160°C)
  • If stuffing turkey, do s while oven is preheating. Spoon stuffing lightly into turkey instead of packing because stuffing expands while cooking.
  • Place turkey breast up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
  • To check the doneness, insert a meat thermometer in the deepest part of the inner thigh, but not touching the bone.
  • Roast uncovered, or loosely covered with foil.
  • Turkey is cooked with meat thermometer reads 180°F
  • Let turkey stand for 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to set.

Storing turkey leftovers

  • Cool the turkey leftovers quickly by cutting it off the bones within 2 hours of cooking
  • Chill stuffing and turkey separately and in shallow containers
  • Use leftovers within 2- 3 days
  • Cooked meats or cold cuts should be used within 3-4 days after placement in the refrigerator, 2-3 months in the freezer.

If purchasing a frozen, pre-stuffed turkey, so not thaw. Cook from frozen state and check product label for further instructions.

Cooking times for turkey

Pre-heat oven to 325°F (160°C)




6-8 lbs

(3.0-3.5 kg)

3-3 ¼ hours

2 ½ - 2 ¾ hours



3 ¼ - 3 ½ hours

2 ¾ - 3 hours



3 ½ - 3 ¾ hours

3 – 3 ¼ hours

12-16 lbs


3 ¾ - 4 hours

3 ¼ - 3 ½ hours



4- 4 ½ hours

3 ½ - 4 hours

Turkey is cooked when the meat thermometer reads 180°F (82°C) for a stuffed or unstuffed turkey and the juices run clear.