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Christmas Dinner Food Safety Tips

Since the turkey was introduced from North America in the seventeenth century it has become the mainstay of the traditional British Christmas dinner.

Every year nearly 10 million turkeys are sold during the Christmas run-up. Poultry, such as turkey, goose and chicken, can cause food poisoning if not cooked properly. Combined with this, is the fact that over Christmas, many people find themselves cooking for more people than they are used to and therefore handling larger amounts of food.

The following information provides advice on reducing the chance of food poisoning for you and your guests over the festive period.

Defrosting time

Always follow defrosting instructions on the packaging. If there aren’t any, use the times below to work out roughly how long it will take to thaw your turkey:

  • In a fridge at 4°C (39°F), allow around 10-12 hours per kg, but remember that not all fridges will be this temperature.
  • In a cool room (below 17.5°C, 64°F), allow approximately 3-4 hours per kg, or longer if the room is particularly cold.

Avoid cross-contamination

  • To prevent the spread of food poisoning germs like Campylobacter, be careful to wash everything that has touched your raw turkey (e.g. hands, utensils and work surfaces) with soap and hot water.
  • Don’t wash raw turkey or other poultry as germs can splash around your kitchen.

 Cooking time

  • Make sure you allow time for your turkey to cook thoroughly. There should be no pink meat in the thickest parts and it should be steaming hot with juices running clear.
  • You can use a pop-up cooking thermometer (which is left in the turkey while it cooks). This should be placed in the thickest part of the turkey (between the breast and the thigh) from the start. You’ll know your turkey is cooked when the thermometer ‘pops’ and has reached a temperature of 70°C for more than 2 minutes.


  • If you’ve got any leftovers, you should cool them, then cover and ensure that they go in the fridge or freezer within 1-2 hours. If you have a lot of one type of food, splitting it into smaller portions will help it to cool quickly and means you can freeze and defrost only what you need for future dishes.
  • You can freeze turkey, other meat and meals cooked from previously cooked and frozen meat. But once defrosted, the pause button is off and you should eat the food within 24 hours.
  • You can make your leftovers into new meals and then freeze them. If you’re running low on ideas for meals, check out these tasty Christmas leftovers recipes.
  • If you make a new meal such as curry or casserole from the leftovers, then you can also freeze this, even if you are using turkey that was originally frozen.
  • Make sure that when you come to use frozen leftovers, you defrost them thoroughly in the fridge overnight or in a microwave (on the defrost setting) and then reheat until steaming hot.
  • If you have leftover wine you can pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it for use at a later date in sauces, gravy or (if it’s white) even as an alcoholic ice cube to chill your wine.
  • Don’t waste any fresh herbs that are leftover, you can puree and freeze them in an ice cube tray to add to dishes as and when you need them.
  • Don’t forget: leftovers should be eaten or frozen within 2 days (one day for rice dishes).

Nigel Braybrooke, Consultant and Training Manager