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Food Safety At Christmas

Great food is a big part of making Christmas special. If you're planning to prepare food for an event at home, here are some basic home safety tips to help keep your Christmas safe and healthy

Plan properly..

  1. Make room in your fridge BEFORE doing your shopping so you can put food straight in when you get back. But try not to pack the fridge too tightly; cold air needs to circulate to cool your food.
  2. Get a fridge thermometer. Food requiring refrigeration is best when kept between 1oC and 5oC.
  3. Move alcohol and most vegetables into a garage or shed. It’s usually cold enough there to create more valuable fridge space.
  4. Put raw meat at the BOTTOM of the fridge, so any drips don’t land on food that is ready-to-eat, such as cooked meats, desserts and salad items.
  5. Plan any cooking well in advance in order to get your timings right for your event. A large turkey can take several hours to cook thoroughly
  6. Always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly, before handling food, and particularly after touching raw meat, poultry and vegetables
  7. Don't wash your turkey (or other meat) before cooking – harmful bacteria can splash onto work tops, dishes and other foods. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria, so you don't need to wash meat.
  8. Always clean and disinfect work tops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they have touched raw poultry/meat.
  9. Keep all raw food separate from ready-to-eat food. Never use the same chopping board for raw and ready-to-eat foods. Use a separate chopping board just for raw meat and poultry.
  10. Check the dates on foods regularly and don't eat foods past their 'Use-by' date, even though they might look and smell fine they may make you unwell.

How do I defrost my turkey safely?

Defrosting times (for frozen birds) and the cooking times for fresh or defrosted birds can vary according to weight. It isn’t safe to take shortcuts if you want to avoid food poisoning. If there aren't any defrosting instructions, use the following times to work out roughly how long it will take to thaw your turkey, but remember to check that it's fully thawed before cooking.

  • In a fridge at 4ºC (39ºF), allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg, but remember not all fridges will be this temperature.
  • In a cool room (below 17.5ºC, 64ºF) allow approximately 3 to 4 hours per kg, longer if the room is particularly cold.
  • At room temperature (about 20ºC, 68ºF) allow approximately 2 hours per kg.

When your turkey is fully defrosted, put it in the fridge until you are ready to cook it. If this isn't possible make sure you cook it immediately.

How do I cook my turkey properly?

First, check if you have any instructions if you have a pre-packed turkey. Often, defrosting and cooking times are stated on the packaging. The following cooking guidelines are only estimates and will vary according to the type of oven that you have. You may want to check the oven instructions, if you still have them! If you don't, as a general guide, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4):

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

Always check that the bird is properly cooked before serving, because eating undercooked turkey (or other poultry) could cause food poisoning. These are the three main ways to tell if poultry is cooked:

  • the meat should be steaming hot all the way through

  • when you cut into the thickest part of the meat, none of the meat should be pink

  • if juices run out when you pierce the turkey, or when you press the thigh, they should be clear

After the event...

Cool any leftovers as quickly as possible (taking no longer than 1 ½ hours) and then store in the fridge or freezer in clean containers. It's a good idea to break down leftover food into smaller portions.

Eat leftovers within two days or freeze them. When reheating leftovers do so until steaming hot throughout to destroy any food poisoning bugs. Only reheat food once, making sure it is very hot all the way through. Chilled leftovers may be eaten cold if they have been stored correctly.

Use a dishwasher if you have one available to use - they're normally a good hygienic way of washing dishes. If you don't have a dishwasher, use hot soapy water and allow the dishes to dry naturally (if you have the space) will help to kill any harmful bacteria.

For more information...

If you unfortunately suffer from food poisoning after your event, or after eating out, contact us for advice.

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External Links

Contact Details

  • Name Food and Consumer Safety
  • Address People Directorate, 4 Ednam Road, Dudley, West Midlands DY1 1HL
  • Telephone 0300 555 2345