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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.