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The latest listeria outbreak has made the issue of food safety impossible to ignore. There's no question that food-borne illness has been a growing concern over the past 10 years, with reports of contaminated spinach, tomatoes, apple juice, berries, beans sprouts and, most recently, deli meats.

While food processing has been blamed for many of these outbreaks, the fact remains that the majority of food-safety problems occur at home. It is estimated that Canada has as many as 13 million cases of food poisoning every year, most of which could be prevented by safer handling of food at home.

Despite repeated advice to wash hands thoroughly, check best-before dates, and cook meat to a safe temperature, research suggests that many of us are not putting these instructions into practice.

If you're like me, you're going to be spending time in the kitchen this weekend preparing a Thanksgiving meal - or at least eating one.

To help ensure your meal is as safe as possible, take a minute to brush up on your food-safety know-how. The following quiz will help you determine how savvy you are when it comes to food safety at home.

1. Microwaving destroys bacteria that cause illness - true or false?

Answer: False

Don't assume that microwaving your food means you've killed harmful bacteria. Microwave cooking heats food from the outside in - not from the inside out - which can result in cold spots where bacteria can thrive.

Cut food into small pieces and arrange them uniformly to promote even heating. For foods that need longer cooking times, stir or rotate them at regular intervals.

2. Fresh produce must always be washed - true or false?

Answer: True

Fresh fruit and vegetables should never be consumed without being washed under clean, running water - even prebagged, prewashed produce. Potatoes, carrots, squash and melon should be scrubbed with a vegetable brush to prevent contamination during cutting.

Dry produce with a clean paper towel to further reduce the presence

of bacteria.

3. Refrigeration halts bacterial growth - true or false?

Answer: False

Refrigeration slows, but does not stop the growth of harmful bacteria. Unlike most microorganisms that cause food poisoning, listeria can multiply in the refrigerator. To discourage the growth of bacteria in food, make sure your fridge is set at

4 C (40 F) or colder and the freezer at -18 C (0 F). Refrigerate or freeze prepared food and leftovers within two hours.

4. It's only the turkey, not the stuffing, that can make you sick - true or false?

Answer: False

Stuffing, when cooked inside a turkey, can become contaminated if not cooked to a safe temperature. The safest way to cook stuffing is separately, in its own dish or on the stovetop, to a minimum temperature of 74 C (165 F).

5. What temperature does your stuffed Thanksgiving turkey need to reach before it is safe to eat?

a) 63 C (145 F)

b) 71 C (160 F)

c) 80 C (175 F)

d) 82 C (180 F)

Answer: d) 82 C (180 F)

Use a digital meat thermometer and cook your turkey until the temperature at the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 82 C (180 F). To kill harmful bacteria, turkey should be roasted at or above 177 C (350 F). It is not recommended that poultry be partly cooked one day and finished the next.

6. Which food is not linked to listeria contamination?

a) Hot dogs and deli meats

b) Baked brie

c) Smoked fish

d) Refrigerated paté

Answer: b) Baked brie

Cold cuts, hot dogs, smoked seafood and soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk (e.g. feta, camembert, brie, blue-veined

cheeses) may harbour listeria. Even undercooked turkey and other meat can be risky. Pasteurization and cooking to proper temperatures kill the bacteria.

High-risk individuals, such as pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, should avoid these foods.

7. What is the safest way to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey?

a) On the kitchen counter

b) In a sink full of cold water

c) In the microwave

d) In the fridge

Answer: d) In the fridge

The ideal way to defrost a turkey is on a tray on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Allow 5 hours per pound.

If you're short on time, thaw in cold water but change the water every 30 to 60 minutes. Allow one hour per pound. Never defrost a turkey

at room temperature. Frozen, pre-stuffed turkeys do not require thawing.

8. Food poisoning can cause which of the following symptoms?

a) Constipation

b) Fever

c) Headache

d) All of the above

Answer: d) All of the above

Classic symptoms include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. But other symptoms - which people often don't associate with food poisoning - include headaches, constipation, breathing problems and blurry vision. Symptoms can appear within a few hours or several weeks after eating contaminated food. Many cases of food poisoning go unreported because symptoms are attributed to stress, stomach flu or overeating.

9. How long does it take for the number of bacteria to double in food at room temperature?

a) 1 day

b) 8 hours

c) 2 hours

d) 20 minutes

Answer: d) 20 minutes

Bacteria grow rapidly in the temperature range of 4 C to 60 C. Food should not be left in this danger zone for more than two hours. Refrigerate leftovers quickly in shallow containers, or lay food flat in resealable plastic bags to speed up cooling. Don't overcrowd your fridge; cold air needs to circulate above and beneath food to keep it properly chilled.

10. How long can you safely refrigerate your Thanksgiving leftovers?

a) 2 weeks

b) 1 week

c) 3 days

d) 2 days

Answer: c) 3 days

To ensure safety and best quality, refrigerated leftovers should be consumed within two to three days or frozen for later use. Date leftovers to ensure they are not stored too long. In the freezer, cooked turkey can be frozen for up to three months; gravy for two to three months. Reheat leftover turkey to a temperature of at least 74 C (165 F) and gravy and soup to a rolling boil.


Add up the number of correct answers to determine your score.

8 to 10: Move to the head of the class.

5 to 7: You pass, but there's room for improvement.

Less than 5: You flunk. Memorize the food-safety motto: Cook, separate, cook, chill.

For more food-safety tips, visit, the website of the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is