safety is key to cracking Christmas

safefood delivers festive food safety messages to consumers

13 November, 2007. As the countdown to Christmas begins, safefood is reminding consumers not to wash the festive bird before placing it in the oven.

Encouraging consumers to consider food safety as a fundamental part of their Christmas preparations, Dr Thomas Quigley, Director, Food Science, safefood said: “Rather than eliminate the spread of germs, washing or rinsing poultry under the tap increases the number of bacteria on the surface of the bird.  In fact, splashes and droplets containing harmful bacteria like campylobacter can land on work surfaces or other foods, where they can survive for three days or more.

“Proper cooking is the only way to kill bacteria that are present on raw poultry.  To make sure your turkey is both thoroughly cooked and tender, use a clean skewer or fork and pierce the thickest part of the breast meat between the leg and breast – once the juices run clear (rather than pink), there is no pink meat left and the turkey is piping hot all the way through, then it’s properly cooked and ready to go.”

safefood’s 12 ‘Christmas Crackers’ for a safe and healthy Christmas are:

Ahead of the festive rush, take a little time to give your fridge a good clean with warm soapy water and ensure all out-of-date foods have been thrown out. You can also make space by re-arranging the shelves in the fridge to accommodate your turkey.

If you are buying a fresh bird, buy it as close to Christmas as possible, bring it home as soon as you can and store it in the fridge, cooking it no later than two days after buying it. If you intend to freeze the bird for use on a later date, always do so as quickly as possible, and don’t take it out until you’re ready to defrost it.

Bring the bird 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.

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 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.

The safest way and the preferred method to defrost poultry is in the refrigerator. Allow one day (24 hours) per 4-5 pounds/1.8-2.2kg. A 15-pound/7kg turkey will require approximately four days to defrost thoroughly. Thawing turkey at room temperature allows bacterial growth and is not recommended.

Handle the bird as little as possible by unpacking it directly into the roasting tray before placing it straight in the oven. If you need to clean the bird, wipe it with a disposable paper towel and discard any packaging directly into the bin.

Raw meat contains bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter so it is important to cook it thoroughly. When the bird is fully cooked the juices should run clear, not pink. A helpful tip to make sure the bird is cooked thoroughly is to simply pierce the thickest part of the drumstick and check that the juices are clear in colour. If you have a meat thermometer or temperature probe, check that the internal temperature reaches 75 degrees Celsius.

If you like stuffing, the safest way is to cook it in a separate dish. But if you prefer to cook it inside the bird, prepare the stuffing just before cooking, stuff only the neck region (not the cavity) taking care not to overstuff and allow extra time for cooking.

Portion sizes are important at Christmas so try to eat the same amounts as you normally would. Turkey and ham are favourites – you can trim the skin from your turkey or fat from your ham for a healthier option.

Sausage stuffing is great with Christmas dinner but perhaps this year also include a delicious breadcrumb stuffing made with breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs, chopped nuts, seeds and dried fruit like apricots and raisins.

Roast potatoes are also traditional favourites and making them with a little vegetable oil is a healthier alternative to butter. You can also make mashed potatoes with low fat milk or a splash of olive oil instead of butter.

For other vegetables, why not try honey or a dash of lemon juice with carrots instead of butter. Parsnips and butternut squash are full of flavour while brussels sprouts are delicious topped with some crumbled, low-fat cheese. Steaming vegetables is a great alternative to boiling them, giving them great taste and texture, and is healthier too. And if you can fit in Christmas pudding, why not wait and enjoy a smaller portion later on with some custard.

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

Full guidelines and a copy of the safefood leaflet is available by calling the safefood helpline free of charge on 0800 085 1683 / 1850 40 45 67 or visiting their website


For further information please contact

Leanne McCarroll or IAS SMARTS     
Tel: 028 90395500    

Fiona Gilligan
Tel: 00353 1 4480060