Every year in the UK, a significant number of food poisoning cases are caused by food prepared and consumed in the home. Christmas time is no exception. Poultry, such as turkey, is commonly associated with food poisoning bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. Coli.
Food safety expert Dr Ellen Evans from ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre at Cardiff Metropolitan University has shared her top five turkey tips to help protect your loved ones from food poisoning this festive season:
1. Let’s talk turkey thawing
Thawing the turkey shouldn’t be the last thing on your Christmas list. If your bird is in the depths of your freezer, plan ahead to make sure you allow enough time for it to thaw thoroughly in the fridge before cooking. Bear in mind this may take a few days.
If your turkey doesn’t have on-pack instructions for how to defrost it then you can work it out yourself. In a fridge operating at 4°C, allow around 10-12 hours per kg.
To prevent cross-contamination, thaw your turkey in a container or tray at the bottom of the fridge. This will catch any bacteria-containing juices and prevent them from contaminating the contents of your fridge.
2. Cleanliness is next to godliness
Because of bacteria found on raw poultry, many people think you need to wash it. Research at ZERO2FIVE has found that 20% of people do this. However, washing raw meat can spread bacteria around the kitchen through splashes. Cooking will kill the bacteria so you don’t need to wash your turkey.
Whilst you shouldn’t wash your turkey, you do need to wash your hands, particularly after handling raw poultry. Research at ZERO2FIVE has found that 90% of people fail to properly wash and dry their hands immediately after handling raw poultry; this results in more bacteria contaminating your kitchen.
To wash your hands properly, you need to spend 20-30 seconds cleaning by wetting them with clean water, using soap, rubbing all parts of your hands to a lather and drying them using a clean towel or kitchen paper.
3. Roast that turkey
Whilst many people are aware of the importance of thorough cooking to destroy bacteria, inadequate cooking is still a significant cause of food poisoning. So, ensuring that your Christmas bird is properly cooked is essential.
Take note of the instructions on the packaging for temperature and approximate cooking times. You may have heard that you need to “pierce the thickest part to ensure juices run clear”, but, colour and texture can be unreliable indicators of safety. The only accurate way to ensure thorough cooking is to use a meat thermometer. Cooking food to a minimum internal temperature of 75˚C will significantly reduce the risk of food poisoning.
Meat thermometers are widely available and they also make great Christmas gifts for foodies and gadget lovers.
4. Keep it cool this Chrimbo
The fridge is often full to the brim with tasty treats over the Christmas holiday, but it’s really important to make sure that your fridge is cold enough to keep your food (and you) safe.
Research at ZERO2FIVE has found that although most people are aware of the importance of keeping food cold, most never check the temperature of their fridge. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that 91% of domestic fridges operate above the recommended temperature.
To ensure food safety, and reduce food spoilage, the Food Standards Agency recommends that your fridge needs to be running at a temperature below 5˚C. Although your fridge might feel cold, the only way to make sure that it is running at the right temperature is to use a fridge thermometer.
Keeping food at a safe temperature is really important to limit how fast bacteria grows. If you have a Christmas buffet, think about how quickly the food will be eaten and don’t take it all out of the fridge in one go. Food that has been at room temperature for more than two hours should not be eaten.
5. Love your leftovers
We often have lots of leftover food over during the festive season and nobody wants to see good food go to waste. Leftovers should be cooled within 90 minutes of cooking, stored in the fridge and eaten within two days.
Following storage length information found on food labels is essential to ensure that your food is not going to make you ill. The ‘use by’ dates and the “once opened, use within…” guidance on food packaging are calculated based upon the growth rate of bacteria in food.
Research by ZERO2FIVE has found that two-fifths of people had foods beyond the ‘use by’ date in their fridges and frequently fail to keep to recommended storage durations. It’s important to follow these guidelines as high levels of bacteria can be present which you can’t see, smell or taste.
Following these food safety tips will help you enjoy a happy and healthy festive season. Show your loved ones how much you care by sharing the food safety message.