Over a quarter of people (30%) will be cooking their first ever Christmas dinner this year

At least one in four people (29%) in Northern Ireland have admitted experiencing a Christmas dinner cooking disaster, according to new research by safefood.

The poll of 500 adults across Northern Ireland also revealed that over a quarter of people (30%) will be cooking their first ever Christmas dinner this year, with one in four (25%) claiming to be relative novices, having only cooked Christmas dinner once or twice before.

50% of people will also risk getting food poisoning this Christmas by washing their turkey before cooking it, which can spread food poisoning germs around kitchen surfaces and on to ready-to-eat foods.

Chef Stephen Jeffers from Forestside Cookery School and Dr Gary Kearney from safefood.

The research was commissioned by safefood as they launch their campaign to take the stress out of Christmas cooking and ensure that everyone has a safe and tasty turkey over the holiday season.

The findings found that the most common Christmas dinner catastrophes experienced by festive cooks were; overcooking or undercooking the turkey (30%); forgetting to turn on the oven (17%), and the turkey not fitting in the oven (17%).

A cooker or oven malfunction (18%); serving up cold food by mistake (13%) and overcooking the vegetables (10%) were also found to be mishaps when preparing the Christmas dinner.

Dr. Linda Gordon, Chief Specialist in Food Science at safefood, said: “This research shows that even the most confident home cooks can find preparing Christmas dinner a challenge. For many it can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you haven’t cooked it before or aren’t used to cooking for a large number of people.

“We’re here to help ease the stress with cooking Christmas dinner with essential tips and advice on how to cook a cracking festive meal. Whatever cooking method, timings or recipes you use; you know your turkey is properly cooked when there’s no pink meat in the thickest part of the breast and thigh, the juices run clear and the meat is piping hot throughout.”

“If you have Christmas leftovers, these should be covered and placed in the fridge within two hours of cooking and used within three days. If you’re reheating leftovers, remember to reheat them only once until they’re piping hot,” continued Gordon.

“Our website www.safefood.eu is stuffed with lots of useful resources including a turkey cooking-time-calculator, how-to videos and lots of tasty Christmas and leftovers recipes. And for any last-minute questions on Christmas Day itself, our safefood Chefbot will also be available to answer questions through Facebook messenger @safefood.eu.”

Supporting safefood’s Christmas food safety campaign, Chef Stephen Jeffers said: “Christmas is the best time of the year, but the pressure to make equally the best meal of the year is very high. Being prepared is the key, so if you have a clear idea of what you are doing and follow proper food hygiene practices, you’re off to a great start.

“The most important thing is that you enjoy the day, so don’t put yourself under too much pressure to cook overly complicated recipes. Plan everything out beforehand and stick to that plan. You can find everything you need to help you cook safely this Christmas Day at www.safefood.eu.”

Talking turkey: Christmas dinner tips!

Get your fridge ready

Ahead of the festive rush give your fridge a good clean with warm soapy water; you can also re-arrange the shelves to make room for your turkey – remember to store it on the bottom shelf so any drips won’t land on ready to eat foods which could spread germs leaving these foods unsafe to eat. You should also ensure any foods past their use-by-date are thrown out. If you need to make extra fridge space, you can store vegetables and drinks (except milk and fruit juices) in a cool place.

Helping to ensure everyone has a safe and tasty turkey over the holiday season is Dr Gary Kearney from safefood and Q-Radio breakfast show presenters Jordan Humphries and Ryan A.

How much turkey do you need?

Don’t buy too big a turkey – you may be fed up with it before it is all eaten. If you’re unsure, ask your Butcher and think about how many people you’re cooking for (children eat less than adults) and whether you want any leftovers.

    • For 4-6 people, a 3-4kg turkey should do
    • For 6-8 people, a 4-5kg turkey should do
    • For 8-10 people, a 5-6 kg turkey should do.


Give yourself enough time to defrost

For a frozen turkey or any frozen poultry, the safest and recommended way to defrost it is to place it on a dish or tray on the bottom shelf of your fridge. You should allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds/1.8-2.2kg and give yourself plenty of time – it can take up to 3 days to fully defrost a frozen 7.5kg/15lb turkey, so you may need to take it out to defrost on December 22nd.

You’ll know it’s fully defrosted when:

  • the body is soft
  • the legs can be moved and
  • there are no ice crystals inside the cavity

Once thoroughly defrosted, a previously frozen turkey cooks the same way as a fresh turkey.

Don’t wash that bird

Do not wash your turkey or any poultry as this splashes food poisoning bacteria around your kitchen through drips, drops and splashes – proper cooking will actually kill any germs present. If you do need to clean the bird, wipe it with a disposable paper towel, discarding the used paper towel and any packaging directly in to the bin. Handle your turkey as little as possible and wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly with warm soapy water.

How long to cook your turkey

Raw poultry and meat can contain germs like Salmonella and Campylobacter, so it’s important to cook these foods thoroughly. Preheat your oven to 180° (Fan Assisted) and cover the turkey with tinfoil during cooking as this helps it to cook more evenly and gives a more “juicy” product. The turkey should be basted every hour during cooking. (the tinfoil can be removed for the last half hour to finally brown the skin). You can find cooking times for your turkey size at www.safefood.eu

What about stuffing?

For stuffed turkeys cooked in a fan oven, you should allow extra cooking time as safefood research has shown that when a turkey is stuffed in the body cavity, it is the centre of the stuffing that is slowest to cook. So with stuffed turkeys, it is essential you check the stuffing itself is piping hot all the way through as well as making sure the meat at the thickest part of the breast is cooked thoroughly before serving. Try not to overstuff the turkey; use a maximum of 10% of the weight of the bird in stuffing for example no more than 500g of stuffing for a 5kg turkey. To help with this, we have a Turkey Cooking Time calculator on our website.

For any other oven types, we don’t recommend you stuff your turkey and that you cook it separately in a suitable dish. That’s because the heat may not penetrate to the centre of your turkey. 

Don’t rush to carve the stuffed cooked turkey

One way of making sure that the stuffing is properly cooked, without risking overcooking the meat, is to remove the turkey from the oven when the meat is fully cooked and leave it to rest for 30 minutes, loosely covered in tinfoil.

How to check your turkey is cooked

Using a clean fork or skewer, pierce the thickest part of the breast and thigh. You’ll know it’s cooked when:

  • It’s piping hot throughout
  • Its juices run clear
  • There is no pink meat left
  • Any stuffing is piping hot throughout

How to store leftovers

Cover any leftovers and place in the fridge within two hours of cooking. Ensure any meat is cooled as quickly as possible – cutting it into pieces will help with this. Once in the fridge, any leftovers should be eaten within three days.

Freezing meats

If freezing leftover meat or poultry, wrap well and make sure it is stored in a suitable container for freezing. Freeze cooked meat for no more than 6 months approx. – this is for quality rather than safety

If already cooked – only re-heat food once!

When re-heating food, ensure it is piping hot all the way throughout. Make sure food is only re-heated once!

Healthier options

If you’re looking for healthier options at Christmas, you can also:

  • trim the skin from your turkey or fat from your ham
  • try a breadcrumb, nut and seed stuffing instead of sausage
  • Roast potatoes in a little vegetable oil as a healthy alternative to butter.
  • Steaming vegetables instead of boiling or roasting them

If you’ve any questions about food safety during December, why not ask our Chefbot – you can find him on Facebook Messenger. Or just visit our website, www.safefood.eu.

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