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Turkey Food Safety

turkey, cooking turkey, turkey food safety
If turkey is the star of your holiday meal make sure that it’s as safe as it is delicious. Here we give you food safety tips on how to buy, prepare and serve your turkey.

Buying your turkey

A turkey can be purchased fresh, frozen, prebasted, prestuffed, preseasoned; and in whole, ground or separate parts (like legs or breasts). Make sure your choice has been stored at safe temperatures and stays safe all the way home.

Choosing a fresh turkey

Check the label to buy the freshest turkey possible. Pay attention to the “best before” date and make sure your turkey is cooked before that date. Cook the turkey within two days.

Don’t know how much to buy? Use this turkey calculator

Preparing your turkey

Fresh turkey

  • Remove the giblets right away and use within two days or discard. 
  • Place the turkey on a tray to prevent raw juices from coming into contact with other foods. 
  • Place the turkey on the bottom shelf in the coldest part of the fridge.

Tip: Never attempt to freeze a whole fresh turkey. Home freezers are not powerful enough to do this job.

Frozen turkey

  • Store the turkey in its original packaging for up to one year. 
  • Always defrost your turkey in the fridge on a tray. 
  • For prestuffed turkey, cook directly from frozen.

Defrosting your turkey

  • In the fridge: 10 hours per kilogram/5 hours per pound.
  • In a sink covered with cold water (change the water every 45 minutes and keep bird in original wrapping): 2 hours per kilogram/1 hour per pound.

If you are using an unstuffed turkey, make sure your turkey is completely defrosted before cooking. The bird will then cook evenly and harmful bacteria will be destroyed.

Tip: A turkey that is labelled “previously frozen” should never be refrozen, unless it’s already been cooked.

Getting ready for cooking – the first steps

  • Make sure all your work surfaces are clean and wash your hands often. 
  • Use a cutting board that’s only used with raw meat and poultry products.
  • Remove the plastic wrap carefully so raw juices don’t drip.
  • You do not need to wash or rinse the turkey before cooking. Rinsing can increase the chance of bacteria spreading and contaminating your work surfaces.
  • After you are done preparing the raw turkey, wash all surfaces, cutting board and knives with hot soapy water and a bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach to 3 cups of water).

The scoop on stuffing

The safest and easiest way to prepare stuffing is to cook it separately from the turkey. 

  • Place prepared stuffing in a covered baking dish and into a hot oven. Cooking times may vary.
  • Place the stuffing inside the bird just before serving if desired. 

If you do cook the stuffing inside the bird, then choose a small turkey and stuff loosely so the heat can penetrate all the way through.

Important cooking tips

  • Never cook a turkey at less than 325ºF (160ºC).
  • Use a food or meat thermometer. This is the most accurate and safest way to check for doneness.
  • The best place to check the temperature is the inner thigh just above the bone (avoid actually touching the bone).

Cooked turkey should reach these temperatures:

  • Unstuffed turkey = 85ºC (185ºF)
  • Stuffed turkey = 85ºC (185ºF)
  • Stuffing =74ºC (165ºF)
  • Ground turkey = 74ºC (165ºF)

Use this chart for help with cooking times. 

After dinner is done

Dinner has come to an end and your meal has been a success. Now it’s time to put those yummy leftovers away. 

  • Do not leave cooked food out on the counter (or at a temperature lower than 60ºC) for longer than 2 hours. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as you can.
  • Do not refrigerate turkey with the stuffing. Stuffing should be removed from the bird’s cavity and placed in a separate container.
  • Remove turkey breast from the bone. The legs and wings can be left whole. 
  • Place leftovers in shallow containers and store in the fridge for no longer than 4 days. 
  • Store gravy in a separate container for 1-2 days.
  • You can freeze leftovers by packaging them in containers that are just the right size for one meal. This makes defrosting much easier.
  • Reheat leftover turkey to a temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).

Have more questions? Speak with an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian about your food safety concerns. Call 1-877-510-5102 or send an email.

For more information on food safety:

Food Safety Network

Canadian Partnership on Consumer Food Safety Information

Last Update – November 23, 2017

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