New research reveals almost half of NI cooks struggle to prepare their Christmas dinner on time

safefood Christmas Dinner
 ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

safefood launches Christmas food safety campaign to have a safe and tasty Christmas dinner

Cooking Christmas dinner and all the trimmings can be more of an ordeal than a celebration with almost half (45%) of Northern Ireland cooks admitting they struggle to get everything ready on time.

That’s the biggest challenge facing Northern Ireland’s festive cooks according to new research by safefood as they launch their campaign to help people have the safest, tastiest dinner this Christmas.

The research also revealed that one in five consumers (22%) find under-cooking or over-cooking the turkey a challenging part of cooking on Christmas Day.

Respondents said that finding enough space in the fridge (13%) and finding a turkey to fit their oven (8%) were also major issues to deal with as they prepared their Christmas dinner.

When it comes to how long to cook the Christmas turkey, one in four adults (23%) will follow what it says on the label, while one in five (19%) get their information online.

Dr. Linda Gordon, Chief Specialist Food Science at safefood commented: “Christmas dinner is one of the most special meals of the year, but it can be a time of stress, especially if you’re not used to cooking for a big group of people and trying to get everything ready on time. We’re here to help ease the stress with cooking Christmas dinner and planning ahead is the best way to stay on top of things in the kitchen.

“Last year, over 80,000 people visited the safefood website between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with the most popular searches about Christmas turkey including: how to defrost a turkey; where to store it; how long to cook it; whether to stuff it or not; and how to know when it’s properly cooked.

“The safefood website has lots of practical help including a turkey cooking-time-calculator, how-to videos, and plenty of recipes to help you have the safest, tastiest turkey this Christmas.

“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.

“And for any last-minute questions on Christmas Day, the safefood Chefbot will also be available to answer questions through Facebook Messenger by searching for and then typing ‘Turkey Time’.”



“12 tips of Christmas from safefood”


1) 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.

2) 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.


3) 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.

4) 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.


5) 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

6) 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.


7) 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.

8) 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

9) 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.

10) 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

11) 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!

12) 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
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