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Food safety tips for Christmas lunch

Top tips for a Christmas free from food poisoning

Since the turkey was introduced from North America in the seventeenth century it has become the mainstay of the traditional British Christmas dinner. Every year nearly 10 million turkeys are sold during the Christmas run-up. Poultry, such as turkey, goose and chicken, can cause food poisoning if not cooked properly. Combined with this, is the fact that over Christmas, many people find themselves cooking for more people than they are used to and therefore handling larger amounts of food. This leaflet provides advice on prevention of food poisoning over the festive period.

Planning

  • Make sure that you have enough fridge and freezer space and that your fridge temperature is running between 0 and 5oC. This can be easily checked with an inexpensive fridge thermometer.
  • If you buy a frozen bird ensure that it is allowed time to properly defrost, if it's still partially frozen the recommended cooking times won't be long enough to cook it thoroughly leading to survival of bacteria and potential food poisoning.
  • Defrosting should be carried out either in the refrigerator or in a cool room. A good guide for defrosting in the fridge is 12 hours per kg, and in a cool room (15oC) is 7 hours per kilo. An 8 kg (17.5 lb) turkey will take 4 days to thaw in the fridge. At the end of thawing a look inside the body cavity should reveal no ice crystals, also the legs should not be stiff but move freely - if there are still ice crystals and/or the legs are a little stiff, more defrosting time will be required (always follow the instructions on the packaging). Make sure it doesn't touch other foods and the dish used is large enough to collect the liquid.
  • Remember 1 kg is equivalent to 2.2 lb, so depending on whether you prefer metric or imperial you will need to make any necessary conversions to recipes/cooking instructions/etc.

Cooking

  • For roasting it is recommended that birds are cooked for 40 minutes per kg at 190oC. As such, an 8kg bird will take 320 minutes (5h 20 min). Follow any instructions on the packaging.
  • Never part cook poultry the night before.
  • Ensure that the turkey is thoroughly cooked, part the skin between the leg and breast, if it's still a little pink then allow extra cooking time. Juices should run clear not pink. When you cut into the thickest part of the turkey, none of the meat should be pink.
  • If you prefer to use a temperature probe or food thermometer, ensure that the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) reaches at least 75oC for 30 seconds.
  • Vegetables need to be handled and prepared properly too, always wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw food. Unless packaging says 'ready to eat' you must wash, peel or cook vegetables before eating.

Avoid contamination

  • Wash hands thoroughly in hot soapy water before preparing food and especially after touching raw meat and other raw foods.
  • Keep cuts and grazes covered with a waterproof plaster.
  • Clean equipment and surfaces thoroughly after preparing raw foods and before contact with other foods. Use an anti-bacterial sanitiser.
  • Always store cooked or ready to eat foods on a higher shelf than raw foods in the refrigerator. Remember raw food includes vegetables.
  • Keep pets out of the kitchen when preparing food.
  • Avoid preparing food for yourself or others if you are ill, especially with sickness and/or diarrhoea.
  • Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry and ready to eat foods unless it is washed thoroughly in hot soapy water (ideally have separate chopping boards).
  • It is not necessary to wash your turkey as adequate cooking will kill any bacteria and by washing the bird you may spread bacteria, via splashing, throughout your kitchen.
  • Don't leave leftovers sitting around as food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply. Cool any leftovers quickly, ideally within two hours before putting in the fridge. To speed cooling divide the food into smaller portions and put on a cooling rack (such as the rack from a grill pan).
  • Avoid re-heating food more than once.
  • If you do reheat leftovers ensure that they are piping hot.
  • Ideally don't keep leftovers for more than 2 days.
  • If you want to keep leftovers longer than two days, you can freeze them instead. Cool leftovers before putting them into the freezer and use within one month. Once defrosted, don't refreeze the leftovers.

Always follow the Christmas code:

  • Cleaning - Sanitise work surfaces and chopping boards.
  • Cooking - Cook thoroughly.
  • Chilling - Cool quickly and keep in the refrigerator.

And to ensure you prevent Cross Contamination - Wash your hands before preparing food.
And ...don't let your turkey knock the stuffing out of you this year!

Freezing food can lead to a less wasteful Christmas

In the run up to Christmas, the Food Standards Agency is promoting a range of messages to help people plan their festive cooking and work out what and when to cook, freeze and defrost in order to have a less stressful and wasteful Christmas. These messages will be delivered by the FSA Freezer Fairy in the form of tips and advice.

The NHS choices website has further information on food safety.

The Environmental Services Section wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Healthy and Happy New Year.