Food safety at Christmas

Food safety at Christmas…

It’s that time of year again. The fridge is overloaded with food for the Christmas and New Year festivities and catering for large numbers is a major challenge. Extra pressure is put on the cook in the kitchen and the risk of food poisoning rises significantly.

In fact, according to the Food Safety Promotion Board, over 100,000 people can suffer from acute gastroenteritis during the Christmas period. One of the key messages is to ensure that the turkey has been thoroughly cooked and that it has been left to thaw properly. You may not realise it but a 15-pound turkey will need around four days in the fridge to defrost thoroughly.

During this time of the year, food is often left out on tables for long periods and in the rush, food safety procedures are forgotten.

The main safe food recommendations for this time of year, according to the Food Safety Promotion Board, are:

Before you begin

To prepare for the festive food blitz, clean your fridge with hot-soapy water and make room for new foods by throwing out any perishables that have passed their best-before date. Always wash your hands before handling food. Wash your hands after handling raw meat, poultry or fish; using the toilet; gardening or handling rubbish; handling a pet or any other animal.

Do not wait until you are finished preparing food to clean up. Tidy as you go along and mop up spills when they happen. Cutting knives that have been used on raw meat, poultry or fish should be washed in warm soapy water before being used on other food. Use one chopping board for meat, poultry and fish and another for fruits, vegetables and bread. Regularly wash and replace kitchen towels and chopping boards.

Buying a turkey or seafood

If you are buying a fresh ‘bird’, remember to reserve it in advance with your butcher, and arrange to pick it up as late as possible to the expected date of cooking. Ideally, buy the bird the day before you wish to roast it. If you buy a frozen bird, it may be worthwhile to reserve this also with your local butcher or supermarket. Follow all guidelines as per the label, and once home, put it into your freezer until you are ready to defrost it.

It can be kept up to six months in the freezer. After this, the flavour and texture may deteriorate.

For those that will be feasting on seafood this Christmas, ensure that you purchase your seafood from a reputable source, transport it home in a cooler and place it in the fridge immediately.

Taking the turkey home

Bring the turkey home as quickly as possible from the grocery shop or butcher. The use of insulated bags is recommended during transportation. Place the bird immediately in the refrigerator or freezer when you arrive home.

Fridge and Freezer Storage

If you buy a fresh bird, you should store it in the fridge and cook it no later than two days after buying it. It should be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that its juices do not drip on other foods and risk contamination. If you buy a frozen bird, put it into your freezer until you are ready to defrost it.

Other food storage tips

Transfer drinks (except milk and fresh juices), and vegetables to your summer freezer box. However, perishables should always be stored in the fridge.


The safest way and the preferred method to defrost poultry is in the refrigerator. Allow one day (24 hours) per 4-5 pounds. A 15-pound turkey will require around four days to defrost thoroughly. Thawing a turkey at room temperature allows bacterial growth and is not recommended. A turkey may be defrosted in the microwave if the oven is large enough. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. Cook microwave-defrosted turkeys immediately after defrosting and consume immediately.

Should I stuff my turkey?

There are a few traditional pros but many food safety cons to stuffing a turkey. The safest way to prepare stuffing is to bake it in a separate casserole dish outside the bird.


Clean the bird inside and out. Do not rinse it under the tap as this can exacerbate the spread germs throughout your kitchen. Pat clean and dry with paper-towels. The turkey should be placed immediately in a preheated oven and cooked to the proper temperature.

Cooking overnight in a ‘slow’ oven is not recommended since food borne bacteria can form under these conditions. Checking the temperature of the turkey during cooking is recommended with the use of an oven-safe meat thermometer.

Checking for 'doneness'

When the bird is fully cooked the juices should run clear, not pink. Here’s a helpful tip to make sure the bird is cooked thoroughly - just pierce the thickest part of the drumstick and check that the juices are clear in colour.



Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking. Chilled food must be kept below five degrees centigrade. Refrigerated food should be eaten within three days. When freezing stuffing or turkey, wrap in heavy foil freezer wrap or place in a freezer container. For optimum taste, use frozen stuffing within one month and frozen turkey within two months. When reheating leftovers, the turkey and stuffing should be reheated to 70 degrees centigrade for two minutes. Gravy should be brought to a rolling boil.

Cooling Foods

All refrigeration units must be maintained at five degrees centigrade or below. Cooked food, if not being consumed immediately, should be cooled and refrigerated to five degrees centigrade or less as quickly as possible. Cool large amounts of liquids in an ice bath with frequent stirring. A domestic freezer should be maintained at -18°C.

Reheating Leftovers

Reheat food only once, as lukewarm foods are perfect areas for fast growing bacteria. Always re-heat leftovers until they are piping hot all the way through, 70 degrees centigrade is the ideal internal temperature.

Clean up

Place raw poultry on non-porous surfaces; these are easy to clean. Use paper towels, not cloth, to dry off turkey and wipe up juices. Wash hands, work surfaces and utensils touched by raw poultry and its juices with hot, soapy water.

Finally, have an enjoyable meal and a Happy Christmas.

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