Christmas food safety: how to cook your turkey

Christmas can put stress on your stomach, not just because of the amount of food you eat but also because turkey – which many people only eat at this time of year – can give you a nasty dose of food poisoning if you don’t defrost and cook it properly.

According to the Food Standards Agency, while most people will have turkey on the menu this Christmas Day, incorrect thawing can lead to the spread of harmful bacteria such as campylobacter. Making sure your turkey is defrosted safely and in good time can make your meal safer. Here are some Food Standards Agency tips on preparing your turkey from frozen:

  • Follow the retailer’s recommended defrosting time. The size of your turkey will determine how long it needs to be defrosted for (a large 11kg turkey can take up to two days to defrost).
  • Defrost your turkey in the fridge if possible or somewhere cool. Cold temperature slows the growth of germs on food and will keep it safe and fresh.
  • Cover the turkey while defrosting, leave in the packaging or put it in a container to hold any thawing juices, and place it at the bottom of the fridge to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Defrost thoroughly, as otherwise your turkey may not cook evenly and harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process.
  • Raw turkey should always be put in the bottom of fridge until ready to use. Leaving on the kitchen counter at room temperature could increase your risk of food poisoning.

Pre-cook preparation

While you’re preparing your turkey for the oven, following these Food Standards Agency tips will help prevent the cross contamination of bacteria:

  • Use different utensils, plates and chopping boards for ready-to-eat food and raw food that requires cooking.
  • Wash your hands after touching raw meat and before you handle ready-to-eat food.
  • Don’t wash raw turkey or any other meat – it just splashes germs onto your hands, clothes, utensils and worktops. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present.

Cooking your turkey

It’s important to cook your turkey – or indeed any other meat or poultry – at the right temperature and for the right amount of time to make sure any harmful bacteria are killed. To work out how long your turkey will take to cook, follow the instructions on the packaging. If there aren’t any, preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4) and use the following as a general guide:

  • For a turkey weighing less than 4.5kg, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes
  • For a turkey between 4.5 – 6.5kg, allow 40 minutes per kg
  • For a turkey bigger than 6.5kg, allow 35 minutes per kg

Cover your turkey with foil during cooking and take the foil off for the last 30 minutes to brown the skin. Also baste your turkey every hour while it cooks to stop it from drying out. When it has cooked, the meat should be steaming hot throughout, the meat juices should run clear and there should be no pink meat visible when you cut into the thickest part.

Be prepared for minor festive stomach upsets this year – ask your local Careway pharmacist about over-the-counter remedies for indigestion and heartburn. Find your nearest pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.