Food safety at Christmas

Every year the Food Standards Agency runs a campaign to highlight important food safety messages.

Let’s Talk Turkey

A guide to food safety at Christmas

Leading up to Christmas, the Food Standards Agency is offering people tips on how to safely prepare turkey at home.

See Let's Talk Turkey guide

Every year, there are an estimated 1,000,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK. From buying your turkey, right through to storing leftovers, there are a number of food hygiene tips that people can follow to protect their loved ones over the festive period. This is why we have put together the ‘Let’s talk turkey guide’ to offer tips around chilling, cleaning, cooking and avoiding cross-contamination. We will also be also explaining some of the science behind our advice, wherever there is a reference to FSA Explains.

FSA advice

  1. When Christmas food shopping, take sufficient bags with you so that you can separate out raw and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  2. Check the guidance on your turkey to ensure you have enough time to fully defrost it – it could take as much as 4 days.
  3. Don’t wash raw turkey, it just splashes germs onto your hands, clothes, utensils and worktops.
  4. To work out the cooking time for your bird, check the instructions on the packaging. Check that the meat is steaming hot throughout and that there is no pink meat visible when you cut into the thickest part and meat juices run clear.
  5. You can use previously cooked turkey (even if it was frozen) to make a new meal, such as a turkey curry. This new meal can be frozen, but make sure you only reheat it once.

FSA Explains

Cross-contamination

Cross-contamination is what happens when bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one object to another. The most common example is bacterial transfer between raw and cooked food – this is thought to be the cause of most infections. For example, when you’re preparing raw chicken, bacteria can spread to your chopping board and knife. If you then use the same board and knife to prepare a ready-to-eat product such as bread, this could cause food poisoning.

That’s why it’s so important that you either use separate knives and chopping boards, or wash them thoroughly between tasks.

The Danger Zone

The FSA advises that the safest way to defrost food is in the fridge overnight. Bacteria will grow at temperatures above 8°C and below 63°C; this is known as the ‘Danger Zone’ for microbial growth. By defrosting in the fridge, which should ideally be at 5°C or below, the food should never enter the ‘Danger Zone’. Some bugs such as listeria monocytogenes can grow at lower temperatures than 8°C.

Cooking methods

Food cooked in an oven cooks through three heat transfer methods:

  • Radiant or direct heat, where the flames at the back of a gas oven or the element in an electric oven cook the food.
  • Conduction, where the heat travels through the shelf, into the baking tray / dish and then into the food.
  • Convection, where the air within the oven is heated and travels over and through the food (particularly important in fan-assisted ovens – this is why they cook foods faster).

If the bird is stuffed, the convection cooking method is severely hampered. That’s why the FSA advises that birds be cooked unstuffed, with any stuffing cooked in a separate tray or dish.

Different cooking times for poultry

We advise that you cook geese and ducks at higher temperatures than chicken. This is in order to help render the fat. Unlike chickens, ducks and geese are waterfowl and have a thick layer of fat under the skin to keep them warm and aid their buoyancy. To remove this, the birds must be cooked at higher temperatures.

Summer food safety

Safe picnicking and safe barbecuing

At long last we can dust off the picnic blankets and wash our plastic cutlery ready for a stroll in the sunshine and enjoy a delicious picnic. You may be planning a family barbeque or inviting friends around to try some tasty chicken or beef burgers but whatever your plans one of them will not be to end up with food poisoning as a result of eating the food.

To avoid this happening and ruining your summer fun, follow these steps to safe summer eating.

Chilling/defrosting

Do not leave food out for longer than 2 hours.

Storing your food properly chilled is one of the best ways to ensure it will be safe to eat. Make sure your fridge is set to the right temperature – the coldest part should be below 5C. Cool cooked foods quickly at room temperature so that they can be stored in the fridge within 1-2 hours. Store raw foods separately from cooked foods, covered on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Do not defrost raw meat or raw meat products at room temperature (as this will increase your chance of getting food poisoning). Ideally food should be defrosted fully in the fridge or if this is not possible, using a microwave on the defrost setting directly before cooking.

Cooking

Cooking food at the right temperature and for the correct length of time will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. 

Chicken, pork, sausages, burgers and kebabs should always be cooked all the way through until steaming hot, there is no pink meat and the juices run clear. They should not be served rare or pink because harmful bacteria may be present in the middle of the meat, causing food poisoning.

Check that food is steaming hot throughout before you eat it.

The Food Standards Agency website has information about food poisoning and how to avoid it. Or follow the FSA on Twitter.

Contact details

Hammersmith & Fulham Council
The Environment Department
Food and Safety Team
Hammersmith Town Hall
King Street
London
W6 9JU

020 8753 1081
foodandsafety@lbhf.gov.uk