The Christmas turkey safety guide

There are plenty of things that can go wrong at Christmas, but don't let food poisoning be one of them. Keep your turkey tasty with these safety tips from the Food Standards Agency


Defrosting your turkey...

If you buy a frozen turkey, always make sure it's thoroughly defrosted before cooking. Work out your defrosting time in advance - for a fridge at 4ºC allow 10 to 12 hours per kg, or at room temperature (20ºC) allow around two hours per kg - and defrost in a large, covered dish to hold the liquid that will come out as your turkey thaws. Pour away this liquid regularly, take care not to spill any on surfaces or other foods and, of course, wash your hands after handling any raw meat. Remove the giblets and neck as soon as possible to speed up the thawing, and before cooking, check for any remaining ice crystals in the cavity and test the thicker parts with a fork to see if any of it still feels frozen.

If in doubt, always follow the storage and defrosting instructions from your turkey retailer.

Preparing your turkey...

It may be a social occasion, but never let raw meat mingle with other food. Prevent the spread of bacteria by keeping your uncooked turkey away from prepared food, thoroughly cleaning all worktops, dishes, boards and utensils that it may have touched, and always washing your hands after handling the raw meat. Never use the same chopping board for raw meat and ready-to-eat food without washing it thoroughly - even better, keep a separate chopping board for raw meat and poultry.

Proper cooking will kill any bacteria, so contrary to what some people will tell you, there's no need to wash your turkey before cooking. In fact, washing it risks transferring bacteria to worktops, dishes, utensils and other foods.

Turkey

Cooking your turkey...

Got a big bird? A large turkey can take several hours to cook, so plan your cooking schedule to allow plenty of time to cook it thoroughly. It may not be traditional, but it's easier to cook your stuffing in a separate tin rather than inside the bird, as it can affect cooking times - if you're cooking a stuffed turkey, allow extra time to ensure everything cooks thoroughly. Fan-assisted ovens might cook the bird more quickly, but as a general guide, in an oven pre-heated to 180ºC, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey under 4.5kg, 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that's between 4.5kg and 6.5kg, and 35 minutes per kg for a turkey of more than 6.5kg. Cover your turkey with foil, but uncover for the last 30 minutes to brown the skin, and baste every hour to keep it moist and juicy.

You can tell your turkey's cooked properly if: the juices flow clear when you pierce the meat or press the thigh, none of the meat is pink when you cut into the thickest part, and the meat is steaming hot all the way through. If you’re using a food thermometer, check that the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) reaches at least 70°C for two minutes.

Storing and using your leftovers...

They're almost as big a part of Christmas as the dinner itself, but leftovers need some love and care too. Always keep cooked meat and poultry in the fridge - only take out as much as you need, and avoid leaving cold meats out for hours on a buffet. When reheating your leftovers, always make sure they're steaming hot all the way through before you eat them. Don't reheat anything more than once, and ideally use all your leftover meat up within 48 hours. Turkey curry all round!

And it's not just meat...

They don't pose as great a food poisoning threat as meat, but your trimmings need to be treated properly, too. Most of the harmful bacteria in vegetables will be in the soil attached to the produce, so be sure to brush off any dry soil before washing your veg. When washing, start with the least soiled items first and give them a good scrub under water - avoid splashing as it could release bacteria into the air. Peeling and cooking your fruit and veg properly can help kill bacteria too.

For more information on Christmas food safety go to food.gov.uk/safereating/hyg/turkey

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