A safe and delicious Christmas with safefood

10 December, 2012. Christmas is a wonderful season for sharing special meals with friends and family. However it can be stressful to keep on top of everything in the kitchen. safefood has some handy tips to ease the stress and help you cook safely this Christmas.

Spending smart

We all know that Christmas is an expensive time of year but you can cut down on your food costs by planning in advance. Planning helps to avoid overeating and waste and will ultimately help your money go further. It can also make your Christmas healthier!
Here are some tips: 

  • Plan your meals over Christmas and then make a shopping list – and keep to it
  • Avoid ‘special offers’ – except for things on your list
  • Only buy what you need – the shops are only shut for two days
  • Don’t buy too big a turkey – you may be fed up with it before it is eaten up
  • Freeze leftovers – you can use them up during January which will save you money
  • Look for loose vegetables – and just buy what you need
  • Look for good value fresh fruit. Supermarket special offers may be useful here!
  • Canned fruit – especially canned fruit in juice – makes a convenient alternative to fresh fruit and can be used to make healthy puddings
  • Remember that ‘Best Before’ is a guideline and ‘Use By’ is a deadline. Recent safefood research shows that a third of people think they mean the same thing
  • Biscuits, chocolates and crisps are expensive. They contain a lot of fat, sugar and salt. How many of these do you really need?
  • Bake a cake or some biscuits instead of buying them
  • Alcohol is high in calories. If you buy less alcohol you will save money

Storing, buying and defrosting

Storing your food correctly is the first step in preparing your Christmas meal. Make sure that you give your fridge a good clean with warm soapy water; you can also re-arrange the shelves to make room for your turkey. Remember to store it on the bottom shelf so any drips won’t land on ready to eat foods which could spread germs leaving these foods unsafe to eat. This is also a time to throw out any foods that are past their ‘Use By’ date. This will help to create room in the fridge. If you still need to make extra fridge space, you can store vegetables and drinks (except milk and fruit juices) in a cool place.
When buying a fresh turkey try to buy as close to Christmas as possible and store it in your fridge or freezer as soon as you can. Ideally, a fresh turkey stored in your fridge should be cooked within two days of purchase. An alternative is to ask your butcher to store it for you - they can refrigerate it properly and you can collect it at a time that suits you. For the journey home, poultry and other meats should be packed separately from ready to eat foods, ideally in a cool bag. 
If you’re defrosting a frozen turkey or any frozen poultry remember to take your time! The recommended method is to place it on a dish or tray on the bottom shelf of your fridge. You should allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds/1.8-2.2kg and it can take up to 3 days to fully defrost a frozen 7.5kg/15lb turkey. 
Remember to check the weight on the label and give yourself plenty of time - you’ll know it’s fully defrosted when 

  • the body is soft 
  • the legs can be moved and 
  • there are no ice crystals inside the cavity 

Once thoroughly defrosted, a previously frozen turkey cooks the same way as a fresh turkey. 

Preparing and Cooking

It is best to handle your turkey as little as possible. Unpack it directly into a roasting tray before placing it straight in the oven. Don’t wash that bird! Remember that you don’t need to wash the turkey at Christmas as this can actually spread germs around your kitchen through drips, drops and splashes - proper cooking will actually kill any germs present. If you do need to clean the bird, wipe it with a disposable paper towel, discarding the used paper towel and any packaging directly in to the bin. You should always wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water and dry with a clean hand towel before and after you handle the bird,
Raw poultry and meat can contain germs like Salmonella and Campylobacter, so it’s important to cook these foods thoroughly. Cover the bird with tinfoil during cooking as this helps the bird to cook more evenly and gives a more “juicy” product. The turkey should be basted every hour during cooking (the tinfoil can be removed for the last half hour to finally brown the skin).
With an unstuffed turkey, you can check whether it’s thoroughly cooked by using a clean fork or skewer to pierce the thickest part of the breast meat (between the leg and breast) – once the juices run clear, there is no pink meat left and the turkey is piping hot all the way through, then it’s properly cooked and ready to serve up. 
For stuffed turkeys, you should allow extra cooking time as safefood research has shown that when a turkey is stuffed in the body cavity, it is the centre of the stuffing that is slowest to cook. So for stuffed turkeys, it is essential you check the stuffing itself is piping hot all the way through as well as making sure the meat at the thickest part of the breast is cooked thoroughly before serving.
Different ovens can have different performance characteristics and it’s important to bear in mind that even when ovens are correctly adjusted, the presence of other items in the oven, or frequent opening and closing of the oven door can make an oven less effective and extra cooking time may be needed.
Don’t “rush” to carve the stuffed cooked bird - one way of making sure that the stuffing is properly cooked, without risking overcooking the meat, is to remove the turkey from the oven when the meat is fully cooked, and leave it to rest for half an hour covered in tinfoil.
Stuffing is great at Christmas and whether its breadcrumb, sausage meat or your own favourite recipe, remember: 

  • Prepare the stuffing just before cooking
  • Try not to overstuff your bird; use only 10% of the weight of the bird in stuffing e.g. 500g stuffing for a 5kg turkey
  • Allow extra cooking time for stuffed birds (to help you calculate this, use our turkey cooking time calculator)
  • Check that stuffing is piping hot all the way through before serving.

Portion sizes and healthy options

It’s easy to overindulge but portion sizes are important at Christmas so try to eat the same amounts as you would normally. Turkey and ham are favourites and for a healthier option, you can trim the skin from your turkey or fat from your ham.
Sausage stuffing is also a favourite but if you want something healthier, maybe try a breadcrumb stuffing made with breadcrumbs, chopped garlic, nuts, seeds and seasonal fruit like berries and raisins.
Roast potatoes are also a Christmas dinner favourite – try making them with a little vegetable oil as a healthy alternative to butter. You can also make mashed potatoes with low fat milk or a splash of olive oil instead of butter.
Steaming vegetables is a great alternative to boiling them, giving them a wonderful taste and texture, and is healthier too. For other healthy vegetable options this Christmas;

  • Why not try honey or a dash of lemon juice with carrots instead of butter?
  • Parsnips and butternut squash are full of flavour 
  • Brussels sprouts are delicious topped with crumbled, low-fat cream cheese. 

And if after all that, you can fit in some Christmas pudding, maybe try a smaller portion than usual, topped with some custard. Or why don’t you try some fresh fruit salad as healthier alternative. It can be a welcome change after the rich main course.

Love those leftovers 

Leftover turkey and ham should be covered and stored in the fridge within two hours of cooking – you can help cool it down by cutting it into smaller pieces. Once refrigerated, it should be eaten within three days. If you want to freeze stuffing or Christmas meats, wrap them in heavy freezer wrap and put in a container suitable for your freezer. 
When reheating Christmas leftovers, turkey and stuffing should be reheated until they are piping hot all the way through. Food should never be reheated more than once and leftover gravy or soup should be brought to a rolling boil.
You can find more information on Christmas cooking including online video tips featuring award-winning chef Neven Maguire by visiting safefood's Christmas hub or calling the safefood helpline ROI - 1850 404 567 / NI - 0800 0851683
Have a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year from all at safefood.

Note to Editors

For further information please contact:
Orla Dormer / Rachel Ahearne
Tel: (01) 6690030 – 085 708 6877 (OD)
Email: orla.dormer@ogilvy.com / rachel.ahearne@ogilvy.com