How to thaw poultry: ignore government

I always thaw my turkey on the counter.

I put it in a roasting pan, to catch the juices, and more importantly, to prevent the cats from nibbling late at night. But with the Canadian Thanksgiving on Oct. 8, Health Canada has come out with its latest orders to Canadians, based on bureaucracy, not science, or even the best available evidence.

"Health Canada would like to remind all Canadians that there are simple steps they can take to help ensure their turkey feast is a safe one."

Food safety is not simple. If it was there wouldn’t be "between 11 million and 13 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year" as the Heath Canada press release states.

Or consumers are just really stupid.

But more baffling is the lack of scientific references for Health Canada’s recommendations.

They say,

"Do not thaw your turkey at room temperature. Thaw turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water."

The water bit could lead to cross-contamination. And as myself and co-authors wrote in 2003,

"While several methods including thawing on the counter at ambient temperatures can be employed for thawing turkey, however, it is adequate cooking, validated with a meat thermometer, that is the more critical step."

The Health Canada advice got it right with the use a meat thermometer bit. But that’s it. Messages like consumers are too stupid to safely thaw meat on the counter are patronizing, patriarchial, and certainly not effective. And when Health Canada and the groups they cite, like the Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education — snappy name there — provide references in peer-reviewed journals, then maybe the rest of us will take them seriously.

Until then, they’re just hacks, offering advice based on bureaucracy, not evidence.