How to Buy, Store and Prepare Poultry Safely

Learn how to safely handle poultry in a food business in order to prevent food-borne illnesses.
September 21, 2020

Poultry is a part of many menu items at many food establishments. Poultry is also a food item that is a high-risk food — which means it has ideal conditions for the growth of dangerous pathogens that can make people ill and cause food-borne illness. For this reason, it is essential that food businesses and their Food Handlers know how to handle poultry safely in all stages, from purchasing and chilling to thawing, preparing and cooking. Doing so is not only essential to maintaining food safety in a food business, but it helps to protect customers and prevent food-borne illness outbreaks.

Purchasing and receiving

When purchasing poultry from a supplier, be sure that the poultry is coming from a reputable supplier who has been approved by local authorities. This helps to ensure that the poultry is coming from a source that follows food safety guidelines.

When receiving the poultry at the food premises, ensure that fresh poultry is delivered at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below in Manitoba). If the poultry is frozen, ensure it is completely frozen and that there is no signs of thawing. If there are signs of thawing, do not accept the delivery. The same goes for the state of the poultry — if the poultry looks discoloured or smells ‘off’, 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 (5°C / 41°F or below in Manitoba) 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* as this is the temperature range where harmful pathogens thrive and grow quickly.

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 2 days of receiving and any that will not be used in that time frame should be frozen or discarded.

*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).

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.
  • Thawing can take 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.
  • Poultry should never be thawed at room temperature (e.g. on a counter or in a sink)
  • 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

In order to prevent food-borne illness from poultry, poultry should be cooked properly and to the correct internal temperature. Make sure frozen poultry is defrosted right through to the centre before cooking.

  • Whole poultry should be cooked to 82°C / 180°F or above.
  • Ground poultry and pieces of poultry should be cooked to 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 immediately 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 things to consider

Sometimes other food items that are added to poultry can have the potential to make poultry unsafe. For example, stuffing and breading are considered potentially hazardous as they are often cooked with potentially hazardous foods such as poultry. 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 also can appear to be fully cooked even when the poultry underneath 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 certified and trained Food Handlers in a food business is key to ensuring that food safety standards are upheld, including the purchasing, chilling, preparing and cooking of high-risk foods such as poultry.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety provides nationally recognized food safety courses online, helping food business across Canada to manage food safety risks and comply with food safety laws and requirements. Learn more about the CIFS Food Handler Certification Course.