COOKING Christmas dinner is a daunting task, fraught with more dangers than just serving soggy sprouts.
According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), most cases of food poisoning – an estimated one million in the UK this year – occur in December, and are a result of undercooked poultry.
Jacqui McElhiney, food safety expert for FSA Scotland, commented: “Preparing Christmas dinner can be a challenge as most of us aren’t used to cooking for so many people.
“It can be easy to make mistakes in the kitchen that increase the risk of food poisoning”.
The agency offers advice for cooking the Christmas bird, including thoroughly defrosting it, proper storage, and of course working out the correct cooking time – generally 35-45 minutes per kilogram, according to the size of the turkey (stuffed birds will require more time again).
To make sure that your feast is fully cooked, check the thickest part – between the breast and the thigh – with a food thermometer, which should read 70 degrees for at least two minutes after insertion.
Food safety officers also warn against washing any type of bird before cooking, as splashing other surfaces may cause a spread of bacteria – and only heat can kill germs, so cold water is useless.
This year’s FSA campaign also focuses on food poisoning caused by cross-contamination, and on cooking vegetables thoroughly to avoid a nasty surprise from Christmas dinner.
The FSA spokeswoman explained: “One of the main rules to remember is to avoid cross-contaminate from raw meat or poultry on to other foods.
“Keep all raw food, whether it’s your turkey or vegetables, separate from read-to-eat foods and always wash your hands before and after handling food”.
Food safety officers at East Renfrewshire council have also prepared a set of hints and tips for staying safe in the kitchen this Christmas.
Experts remind home cooks to store food properly in the fridge – at a temperature no higher than five degrees, and with raw meat and fish at the bottom.
Wash utensils and boards between different uses, and using bactericidal detergent where appropriate.
And remember – it’s not just Christmas dinner which poses a risk. Many people fall prey to germs when tucking into leftovers the next day, so make sure anything reused is thoroughly reheated to kill any lingering bacteria.
For more information from ERC’s health and food safety team, contact 577 3782 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further advice on cooking the Christmas turkey can be found at www.food.gov.uk/safereating/hyg/turkey.