Advice on cooking a turkey safely

Date published: 21 December 2017

It’s important to prepare and cook your festive food safely. Every year people suffer food poisoning in December as a result of campylobacter bacteria, which is found in turkey and chicken.

Avoiding food poisoning

It's important that you handle, prepare and cook your turkey properly in order to kill campylobacter bacteria.

Christmas is a time when people often cook a bigger bird than they usually do. Nobody wants to be ill over the festive period especially with food poisoning, which can have many unpleasant symptoms, such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal cramps

You will find advice at the page below to help you cook your turkey safely and avoid making yourself or your family ill:

Top turkey tips

Remember these top tips for cooking your turkey.

Keep meat in fridge

Keep your turkey and other raw poultry meat in the fridge until it's ready to use. By keeping food cold, the growth of food poisoning germs is slowed down. Leaving it outside the fridge at room temperature could increase your risk of getting ill.

Make space in the fridge, try not to pack food too tightly as the cold air needs to circulate to keep all your food cool.

Keep raw foods separate from other ready-to-eat foods by putting raw meat in a covered container and placing on the bottom of the fridge to avoid cross-contamination.

Your fridge temperature should be running between 0 and 5°C. This can be checked easily with an inexpensive fridge thermometer.

Defrosting a frozen turkey

Defrosting times vary, so check the instructions on the packaging. For example, a large turkey 11kg in size, can take up to two days to defrost.

When defrosting, leave it in the packaging (or cover and put it in a container to hold any thawing juices), then place at the bottom of the fridge to avoid cross-contamination.

Defrost thoroughly, otherwise your turkey may not cook evenly and harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process.

Don't wash your turkey

Don’t wash your turkey or any other poultry or meat.

Cooking thoroughly will kill any bacteria present, including campylobacter, while washing poultry can spread germs by splashing onto cooking utensils, kitchen tops and anything else within reach - including you.

Cooking

Cook thoroughly and always check the retailer’s instructions for cooking times, as this will vary according to the size of the turkey. Be aware that fan-assisted ovens might cook your turkey more quickly.

To check your turkey is ready, make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through. Cut into the thickest part of the turkey - none of the meat should be pink and any juices should run clear.

Cook any stuffing in a separate roasting dish, rather than inside the bird, as it will cook more easily and the cooking guidelines for the turkey will be more accurate.

Leftovers

Leftovers should be left to cool, covered and placed in the fridge - ideally within two hours after being cooked.

Use leftovers within two days and, if reheating, do so until steaming hot all the way through. You shouldn’t reheat leftovers more than once.

Leftovers can also be frozen and used within one month. Frozen leftovers should be defrosted thoroughly in the fridge.

The ‘use by' date is your friend and can be found on the packaging of foods that go off quickly, for example meat products, dairy and ready-prepared salads. ‘Use by’ doesn’t always mean ‘eat by’. If a food can be frozen its life can be extended beyond the ‘use by’ date – always follow the retailer’s instructions.

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