Turkey tips for Christmas

Posted by Josette Dunn on 20th December 2010

The Food Standards Agency is reminding people to follow some simple safety steps this Christmas when preparing their turkeys, to help keep the festive period free from the misery of food poisoning.

Many people aren’t used to cooking such large meal, so remembering and sticking to the basic rules should mean food poisoning is one less thing to worry about over Christmas.

If you buy a frozen turkey make sure it’s completely thawed before you cook it by checking there are no ice crystals in the cavity. Also, use a fork to test the thickest parts of the meat. A larger turkey can take up to two days to defrost entirely.
Don’t wash your turkey before cooking. Washing is more likely to splash food bugs on to worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill bugs.

Plan your cooking time properly. Follow the cooking times and other instructions on the label or, as a general guide, for a turkey weighing less than 4.5kg, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes; for one weighing between 4.5kg and 6.5kg, allow 40 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes; and for those over 6.5kg, 35 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes. All turkeys should be cooked at 180ºC, 350ºF, Gas Mark 4 (after the oven has preheated).

Check the turkey is cooked properly by cutting into the thickest part of the meat. None of the meat should still be pink and any juices that run out should be clear. Finally, the meat should be steaming hot all the way through.
Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘Don’t let food poisoning ruin your Christmas. Be sure to leave plenty of time for your turkey to defrost and cook properly.

‘One of the most common mistakes people make when preparing their turkey or chicken is washing the bird before they cook it. Our research has shown that 80% of us who cook a turkey at Christmas wash it before cooking. This isn’t necessary and can be harmful. Washing your turkey can splash bugs around the kitchen and proper cooking will get rid of them anyway.’

Food bugs

Campylobacter is the most common food bug found on turkeys. A recent study of poultry found contamination on more than half of the raw turkey sampled. The study, carried out in raw retail poultry on sale in Northern Ireland, reported that 56% of turkeys and 91% of chickens were contaminated.

The Agency has identified campylobacter as the biggest source of food poisoning in the UK, and estimates more than 370,000 people got ill from it in 2009, with around 26,500 cases in December 2009 alone. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

However, the Agency stresses that cooking your turkey properly will kill campylobacter and any other bacteria.

Bob Martin also said: ‘Campylobacter is commonly found in poultry in the UK – unfortunately it is too common. This is why we have identified reducing these levels as our number one food safety priority and are working closely with poultry producers and retailers to tackle the problem. However, people shouldn’t worry and certainly shouldn’t take turkey off their Christmas menu – because food poisoning can be easily prevented. Cooking your turkey properly will mean it is safe to enjoy.’