Christmas food hygiene

Christmas food hygiene tips and how to cook your turkey safely.

There are an estimated 2.4 million cases of food poisoning (Opens in a new window) in the UK each year. Whether cooking at home, or reusing leftovers, it’s important to maintain good food hygiene at Christmas by following the ‘4Cs’ of cleaningchillingcooking and avoiding cross-contamination.

Christmas is a significant period of food waste. Love Food Hate Waste (Opens in a new window) estimate over 100,000 tonnes of edible poultry, 96,000 tonnes of carrots and 710,000 tonnes of potatoes are thrown away each year in the UK.

Thinking hygienically when storing, cooking, reusing and freezing food will help keep your Christmas safe and minimise food waste over the festive period.

Christmas food shopping

Take enough bags for your Christmas food shop so that you can keep raw and ready-to-eat food apart. To prevent cross-contamination, store raw meat, fish and shellfish separately from ready-to-eat food and vegetables. Keep raw foods covered on the bottom shelf of your fridge.

When food shopping over the Christmas period, it is important to understand the difference between best before and use-by dates to effectively plan your meals, get food to last longer, and make sure you’re not throwing away food unnecessarily.

Check your fridge is set at 5°C or below. Test this with a fridge thermometer. If your food is stored at the correct temperature, it should last right up to the use-by date. For the use-by date to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow storage instructions.

How to defrost your turkey

If your turkey is frozen, check the guidance on the packaging in advance. Some turkeys can be cooked from frozen if the manufacturer’s instructions say so. However, most frozen turkeys will need to be defrosted. Plan this in advance, as a whole turkey can take between 3 to 5 days to properly defrost.

Do not defrost your turkey at room temperature, instead, you should defrost your turkey in the fridge. Always defrost your turkey in a container large enough to catch the liquid that comes out during thawing. This is to avoid cross-contamination. Use a covered dish at the bottom of the fridge so that it cannot drip onto other foods. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any part of the raw turkey.

A typical large turkey weighing 6-7kg could take as much as 4 days to fully defrost in the fridge. If there are no instructions for defrosting your turkey, you can work out yourself how long it will take to thaw completely. In a fridge, allow around 10-12 hours per kg.

If your turkey is not fully defrosted before cooking, it may cook unevenly. This means harmful bacteria can survive the cooking process and you will be at risk of food poisoning.

How to cook your turkey

Do not wash raw turkey before cooking. Washing raw meat spreads germs onto your hands, clothes, utensils and worktops. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present.

When cooking your turkey, always check the advice on the packaging and follow the instructions provided. The cooking guidelines will be based on a bird that is not stuffed. 

After touching raw poultry it is important to wash your hands thoroughly. Also, clean any work surfaces, chopping board or utensils raw poultry has been in contact with.

Cook your stuffing in a separate roasting tin, not inside the turkey. A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook and may not cook thoroughly if it has not reached the correct temperature throughout.

To work out the cooking time for your turkey, check the retailer’s instructions on the packaging. If there are no cooking instructions, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF or Gas Mark 4):

  • allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey that weighs under 4.5kg
  • allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs between 4.5kg and 6.5kg
  • allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs over 6.5kg


Page last reviewed: 26 April 2023

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