Don't wash your bird

safefood delivers food safety messages to consumers for Christmas

7 December, 2008. Earlier today, safefood issued food safety advice urging consumers not to wash the bird before placing it in the oven. The practice of washing or rinsing poultry under the tap is likely to lead to increased risk of the spread of germs including Campylobacter * in the kitchen, through splashes and droplets, given the levels which may be present on raw poultry.

Speaking earlier today, Dr. Thomas Quigley, Director, Scientific and Technical, safefood said, “Washing birds is a tradition based on a myth. Recent research has shown that bacteria, particularly Campylobacter, can be spread significant distances in the kitchen, and any practice which transfers these organisms, should be avoided. By simply placing the bird directly onto the roasting tray and straight into the oven, consumers can avoid this situation. All harmful germs will be killed by cooking the bird thoroughly, leaving the meat safe to eat.”

“Of course this advice applies to every occasion when poultry is being prepared, not just at Christmas time. Poultry should be cooked until the juices run clear, ensuring it is piping hot all the way through and there is no pink meat left.” he continued.

Studies examining consumer behaviour in the kitchen have shown that practices that are likely to lead to cross-contamination from raw foods, such as poultry, to foods that are ready to eat, are common.

Germs may also be found on the outside of poultry packaging, especially if leakage of juices has occurred, so safefood is urging consumers to use safe practices that do not cause cross-contamination in the kitchen, whilst preparing all raw meat and poultry this Christmas. ”If you think the bird really needs cleaning, use a paper towel and dispose of it,” Dr. Quigley added

Levels of contamination can be effectively reduced in the kitchen by simple food safety and hygiene practices. In particular, thorough hand washing and cleaning surfaces that come into contact with raw foods will decrease the risk of food poisoning illness.


For further information please contact

Andrew Hyland or Niamh Burdett   
Tel: 01 6690030    

Fiona Gilligan
Tel: 01 4480607

* Campylobacter is a bacterium found in the intestines of many types of animals and is the most common bacterial cause of diarrhoeal illness. Campylobacter infection is more prevalent during the summer months, with babies and children in the 0–4 age group more likely to be affected

Findings from the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Foods (ACMSF) report titled ‘Second report on Campylobacter 2005’ are referred to in this press release.

Editor’s Notes

1. Before you start

To prepare for this food blitz, give your fridge a good cleaning out with hot-soapy water and make room by throwing out any perishables that have passed their best-before date.

  • Always wash your hands before handling food. 
  • Also wash your hands after handling raw meat, poultry or fish and their packaging; using the toilet; gardening or handling rubbish; handling a pet or any other animal.
  • Don't wait until you're 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 always be washed in warm soapy water before being used on other food. 
  • Wash chopping boards thoroughly after each use.
  • Regularly wash and replace kitchen towels. 
  • Remember these basic rules of food safety are just the same as the rules for keeping food safe right throughout the year.

2. Buying your ‘Bird’

If you are buying a fresh bird, remember to reserve in advance with your butcher or retailer, 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're ready to defrost it. It can be kept up to 6 months in the freezer. After this, the flavour and texture may deteriorate.

3. Taking the ‘Bird’ home

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

4. Fridge and Freezer Storage

If you buy a fresh bird, you should store it in the fridge after buying it. It should be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that it’s juices don’t drip on other foods and risk contamination.
If you buy a frozen bird, put it into your freezer until you're ready to defrost it.

5. Other Food Storage Tips

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

6. Thawing

The safest way and the preferred method to defrost poultry is in the refrigerator. Allow one day (24 hours) per 4-5 pounds or 2 – 2.5 kg. A 15-pound turkey will require approximately three days to defrost thoroughly. When you have defrosted your turkey, keep it refrigerated and cook it within 24 hours. If the total time taken to defrost the turkey is three days or more, then the bird should be cooked immediately. Thawing turkey at room temperature allows bacterial growth and is not recommended.

7. 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.

8. Roasting

Do not rinse under the tap as this can exacerbate the spread germs throughout your kitchen. The turkey should be placed immediately in a preheated oven and cooked to the proper temperature.

9. Checking for ‘doneness’

When the bird is fully cooked the juices should run clear, not pink. 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, the meat should be piping hot and there should be no pink meat left.

10. Dealing with Leftovers

Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking.  Chilled food must be kept below 5°C and the leftover 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.

Cooling Foods:
All refrigeration units must be maintained at 5°C or below. Cooked food if not being consumed immediately should be cooled and refrigerated to 5C 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.

11. Reheating Leftovers

When reheating leftovers, the turkey and stuffing should be reheated to until they are piping hot all the way through. Food should never be reheated more than once. Gravy should be brought to a rolling boil.

12. Clean up

  • Place raw poultry on non-porous surfaces; these are easy to clean. 
  • Use paper towels, not the dish cloth, to dry off turkey and wipe up juices. Dispose of this paper towel directly into the bin.
  • Wash hands, work surfaces and utensils touched by raw poultry and its juices with hot, soapy water.