Let's Talk Turkey: your guide to Christmas food safety

We want you to eat, drink and be merry this Christmas, so we’ve put together some advice to help you plan your festive feast.

turkey cooked in the oven

We want you to eat, drink and be merry this Christmas, so we’ve put together some advice to help you plan your festive feast.

Buying your turkey and festive feast

shopping bags

Avoid cross-contamination when doing your Christmas food shopping. Always make sure you take enough bags so that you can pack raw and ready-to-eat food separately.

Find out more about cross-contamination.

Storing your turkey

fridge and christmas tree

Once you get your shopping home, plan your fridge and freezer space effectively. Some foods need to be kept in the fridge to help slow down the growth of germs and keep food fresh and safe for longer.

To prevent cross-contamination, store raw turkey and other raw food (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and veg) separately from cooked and ready-to-eat food. Keep them covered and chilled on the bottom shelf of your fridge.

Check regularly that your fridge is cold enough – it should be below 5°C. Generally, the colder the temperature the slower germs will grow, but cold temperatures don’t stop germs growing altogether. Consider using a fridge thermometer as a fridge’s dials are not usually an indicator of the temperature.

Defrosting your turkey

turkey

If your turkey is frozen, make sure you check the guidance on the packaging well in advance to ensure you have enough time to fully defrost it. Defrost it according to its size – a typical large turkey weighing 6-7kg could take as much as 4 days to fully thaw in the fridge. To avoid cross-contamination always defrost your turkey into a container large enough to catch any juices.

Make sure your turkey is fully defrosted before cooking – partially defrosted turkey may not cook evenly, meaning that harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process.

Some turkeys can be cooked from frozen if the manufacturer’s instructions say so. (In these cases, follow the manufacturer’s advice).

Do not defrost foods at room temperature. Ideally, food should be defrosted fully in the fridge or if this is not possible, using a microwave on the ‘defrost setting’ directly before cooking. Find out the science behind our defrosting advice.

If there aren’t any instructions on the packaging, use the times below to work out roughly how long it will take to fully thaw your turkey:

  • In a fridge at 4°C (39°F), allow around 10-12 hours per kg (remember that not all fridges will be this temperature).
  • In a cool room (below 17.5°C, 64°F), allow approximately 3-4 hours per kg, or longer if the room is particularly cold.

Preparing your turkey

chopping board and a knife

Effective cleaning removes bacteria on hands, equipment and surfaces, helping to stop harmful bacteria from spreading onto food through cross-contamination. These tips will help you keep germs at bay:

  • Use different utensils, plates and chopping boards for ready-to-eat food and raw food that requires cooking.
  • Wash your hands after touching raw meat and before you handle ready-to-eat food.
  • Don’t wash raw turkey or any other meat – it just splashes germs onto your hands, clothes, utensils and worktops. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present.
  • Do not prepare food for others if you have suffered from food poisoning or have an infectious illness.

Cooking your turkey

oven with turkey in

Firstly, consider cooking your stuffing in a separate roasting tin. The bird will cook more easily and the cooking guidelines will be more accurate if it isn’t stuffed. To cook your stuffing inside the turkey, you’ll need to extend the cooking time to ensure that everything is properly cooked.

Cooking food at the right temperature and for the correct length of time will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. This is particularly important when cooking turkey, chicken, duck, goose, pork, or any minced products such as kebabs, sausages and burgers.

Always check that:

  • the meat is steaming hot throughout
  • there is no pink meat visible when you cut into the thickest part
  • meat juices run clear

Read more about the science behind different cooking methods.

How long will a turkey take to cook?

To work out the cooking time for your bird, check the retailer’s instructions on the packaging. If there aren’t any cooking instructions, as a general guide, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4):

  • Allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey under 4.5kg
  • Allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that’s between 4.5kg and 6.5kg
  • Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey weighing more than 6.5kg

Cover your turkey with foil during cooking and uncover for the last 30 minutes to brown the skin. To stop the meat drying out, baste it every hour during cooking.

How long will a goose or duck take to cook?

Other birds, such as a goose or a duck, need different cooking times and temperatures.

  • Geese should be cooked in a preheated oven at 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7 for 35 minutes per kg.
  • Ducks should be cooked in a preheated oven for 45 minutes per kg at 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.
  • Chickens should be cooked in a preheated oven at 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes extra.

Find out more about different cooking times for poultry.

Using a temperature probe

If you’re using a temperature probe (used to check internal temperature occasionally), you should ensure that the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) reaches a temperature of 70°C for more than 2 minutes, or similar time / temperature combination:

thermometer

  • 60°C for 45 minutes
  • 65°C for 10 minutes
  • 70°C for 2 minutes
  • 75°C for 30 seconds
  • 80°C for 6 seconds

Remember to wipe the temperature probe clean after each use to avoid spreading germs.

Using a cooking thermometer

If you’re using a cooking thermometer (which is left in the bird while it cooks), this should be placed in the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) from the start. You’ll know your bird is cooked when the thermometer has reached a temperature of 70°C for more than 2 minutes.

Some retailers include pop-up timers with their poultry products, which can also be used as an indicator of when the bird is thoroughly cooked. Once the indicator stick (typically red) pops up, this indicates that the bird is thoroughly cooked, though you might also want to double-check this visually. Pop-up timers are easy to read because it’s as simple as ‘Cooked’ or ‘Not cooked yet’.

Love your leftovers

  • Cool any leftovers at room temperature, then cover them and ensure that they go in the fridge or freezer within 1-2 hours. If you have a lot of one type of food, splitting it into smaller portions will help it to cool quickly and means you can freeze and defrost only what you need for future dishes.
  • You can freeze cooked turkey, other cooked meat and meals made from cooked and frozen meat. But once defrosted, you should eat the food within 24 hours.
  • You can use previously cooked and frozen turkey to make a new meal, such as a turkey curry. This new meal can be frozen too, but make sure you only reheat it once.
  • When you come to use frozen leftovers, make sure you defrost them thoroughly in the fridge overnight or in a microwave (on the ‘defrost setting’) and then reheat until steaming hot.
  • Don’t forget: leftovers should be eaten or frozen within 2 days (one day for rice dishes).