How to Buy, Store and Prepare Poultry Safely

Learn how to safely handle poultry in order to prevent food-borne illnesses in a food business.
September 1, 2022

Poultry is a menu staple at many food establishments. Poultry is also a high-risk food, which means it has ideal conditions for the growth of dangerous pathogens that can cause food-borne illnesses. For this reason, it is essential that food businesses and food handling staff know how to handle poultry safely at all stages, from purchasing and receiving, to storing, thawing, preparing and cooking. Proper handling of high-risk foods like poultry is essential to maintaining food safety, protecting customers and the food business, and preventing food-borne illness outbreaks.

Purchasing and receiving

When purchasing poultry, be sure to select a reputable supplier with good operating procedures. They should comply with all laws and local regulations, and meet any approval requirements if they are delivering potentially hazardous foods like chicken, as well as meat, fish, or dairy products. 

A reputable supplier will have no objections if you request to inspect their operating facilities, delivery vehicles or food items. Their drivers will be happy to cooperate when you inspect every delivery, and they will deliver in off-peak periods to allow enough time for these inspections.
Reputable suppliers deliver food in clean, high quality, leak-proof packaging. They ensure that their delivery vehicles are maintained at the correct temperature for the type of food being delivered.

When receiving a poultry delivery at the food premises, ensure that any fresh product is delivered at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below. Frozen poultry should be delivered at a temperature of -18°C / 0°F or below. Ensure the poultry shows no signs of thawing. If there are signs of thawing, do not accept the delivery. Additionally, if there are any signs of other quality issues – for example, if the poultry looks discoloured or has a concerning odour – do not accept the delivery.

Chilling

Once the poultry has been received it must be stored and chilled immediately. Poultry should be kept at 4°C / 40°F or below in the refrigerator, or frozen at -18°C / 0°F or below in the freezer. Do not let poultry sit in the Temperature Danger Zone, which is the temperature range where harmful pathogens grow most quickly. In Manitoba, the Temperature Danger Zone is between 5°C and 60°C (41°F – 140°F). For the rest of Canada it is between 4°C and 60°C (40°F – 140°F).

When storing in the refrigerator or freezer, be sure the poultry is wrapped in airtight packages that are labelled and dated. Store poultry on lower shelves in the refrigerator so it does not contaminate other items.

Fresh poultry must be cooked within two days of receipt; any poultry that will not be used in that time frame should be frozen or discarded

Thawing

Thawing poultry properly is key to preventing contamination and the growth of harmful microorganisms within the poultry. Here are key things to remember when thawing poultry:

  • Thaw poultry in the refrigerator on the lower shelf
  • Poultry should never be thawed at room temperature (e.g. on a counter or in a sink)
  • Thawing can take from a few hours up to a few days depending on the size of the poultry
  • Once poultry has been completely thawed it must be cooked that day
  • Thawed poultry should not be refrozen

Preparing

There are key actions that a Food Handler can take to ensure the safe preparation of poultry. Hands must be washed using the proper hand washing technique before and after preparing poultry. Also, separate preparation items must be used to prepare the poultry — this includes cutting boards, plates and kitchen knives to name a few. Before and after preparing poultry, all surfaces, equipment and utensils must be cleaned and sanitized. It is also important to remember that poultry should never be rinsed in a sink before preparation. This action can cause harmful bacteria to splash onto other surfaces and cause cross-contamination.

Cooking

Poultry should be cooked properly and to the correct internal temperature to ensure it is safe for consumption. Make sure frozen poultry is defrosted right through to the centre before cooking, and follow the below temperature guides:

  • Whole poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 82°C / 180°F or above
  • Ground poultry and pieces of poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74°C / 165°F or above (82°C / 180°F or above in Manitoba)

Check the internal temperature by inserting a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the poultry. Be sure to avoid any bones when checking the temperature. When cooking whole birds, such as turkey, insert the thermometer under the drumstick, as this is the area that takes the longest to heat up.

After cooking, refrigerate leftover poultry within two hours and use within three to five days. It is also important to remember that poultry, or meals containing poultry, should not be reheated more than once.

Other considerations

Sometimes other food items that are added to poultry can have the potential to make poultry unsafe. For example, stuffing and breading. Stuffing can act as an insulator if cooked inside poultry and prevent it from reaching the required internal temperature. Therefore, stuffing must always be cooked separately from poultry.

Breading can also act as an insulator and prevent poultry from reaching its required temperature. Breading can appear to be fully cooked even when the poultry beneath or inside is not. Therefore, extra caution must be taken when cooking breaded poultry, and the internal temperature must always be checked with a probe thermometer.

Food safety training is key

The safe handling and preparation of poultry is essential for keeping customers safe from food-borne illness. Having trained and certified Food Handlers in a food business is key to ensuring that food safety standards are upheld during every step of the process, from ordering to receipt to preparation.  

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety provides nationally recognized food safety courses online, helping food businesses across Canada to manage food safety risks and comply with food safety laws and requirements. Learn more about the CIFS Food Handler Certification Course or check out our resource on food contamination to explore this topic further