Leave food poisoning from turkey at the door this Christmas!
With the Christmas countdown firmly on, we are taking a look at the nation’s favourite ingredient for Christmas dinner: the turkey and the topic of food poisoning from turkey. Whilst you might have your tips and tricks for cooking and seasoning your Christmas turkey down to a t, it’s worth keeping some hygiene dos and don’ts in mind too.

It is thought that over 11 million people within the UK will buy a turkey for their Christmas feast this year. That is a lot of turkey and does not include other types of poultry consumed around the festive period.

Raw meat contains a variety of microorganisms that are considered pathogenic to humans, with the most common bacteria including Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Salmonella. Other bacteria may include Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Not all of these bacteria have the same infectious dose or mode of target when it comes to the invasion of host cells. Clostridium perfringens, for example, are capable of producing endospores; a tough, non-reproductive structure that the microbe can form in the event of environmental stress or lack of nutrients. This allows the bacteria to remain dormant and resistant to many chemicals and heat until sensors detect an ideal environmental, i.e. the human body. Upon germination, these spores can release toxins which cause destruction to tissues and manipulate host cell functions. Infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus usually present symptoms within 2-8 hours due to toxin release following consumption. Other bacteria such as C. jejuni may present symptoms after 2-5 days, as these microbes slowly make their way through the intestines where they invade host cells and cause intense diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

So here are some tips as recommended by the Foods Standard Agency (FSA) for keeping safe this Christmas and avoid food poisoning from turkey to enjoy the festive season:

Defrosting

  • When shopping, always pack raw and ready-to-eat food separately to prevent contamination. Store raw food in the bottom of fridge to avoid any raw juices dripping on to cooked food. A good tip is to store raw meats in a container large enough for the meat itself and also large enough to catch any juices.
  • Check that the fridge is below 5˚ Do not defrost meat at room temperature as this will encourage microbial growth. The fridge dial isn’t always an accurate measure for the fridge temperature, fridge thermometers are better for determining the fridge temperature.
  • A large turkey can take up to 4 days to fully defrost – always check the guidance on the packaging. A turkey that is fully defrosted will cook evenly. This will not only improve the taste but means harmful bacteria do not survive the cooking process.

Preparation

  • Always wash your hands after touching raw meat and before handling ready-to-eat food.
  • Use separate utensils, plates and chopping boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Never wash the turkey in the sink! This has no benefit to the cooking process and splashes bacteria all over clean utensils, worktops and even clothes.
  • If you have recently suffered from, or are still suffering from food poisoning, refrain from preparing food for other people.

Cooking

  • The cooking guidelines are based on a turkey that has not been stuffed. Always make allowances for extra cooking time, if you must stuff the turkey prior to cooking. Try to cook stuffing separately if possible.
  • Always follow the cooking guidelines according to the weight of the bird and the temperature recommendation.
  • If no cooking guidelines are provided, use the following guide below as instructed by the FDA.
    • As a general guide, in an oven preheated to 180˚C, 350˚F or Gas Mark 4, you should:
      • Allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey that weighs less than 4.5kg
      • Allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that’s between 4.5kg and 6.5kg
      • Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey weighing more than 6.5kg
      • Take into account the time used to remove the turkey for basting every hour.
    • Use a cooking thermometer or temperature probe to determine the temperature of the meat and check the temperature were the meat is thickest (between the breast and thigh on birds).

Before serving, always check that:

  • The meat is steaming hot throughout
  • There is no pink meat visible
  • The juices run clear when you cut into the thickest part of the meat (between the breast and the thigh)

Although it is generally tradition, turkeys are not the only birds consumed at the Christmas feast. Keep in mind the cooking time of other birds, such as a goose, chicken, or duck. Geese and ducks have a thick layer of fat under their skin unlike chicken and turkey and therefore will require additional cooking time and different temperatures.

It is highly recommended to use a temperature probe once the turkey has had its suggested cooking time. Ensure that the thickest part of the bird reaches an appropriate temperature time combination:

  • 60°c for 45 minutes
  • 65°c for 10 minutes
  • 70°c for 2 minutes
  • 75°c for 30 seconds
  • 80°c for 6 seconds

Remember it is essential to clean the probe or thermometer after every use to prevent cross-contamination.

The Leftovers

We all love the Christmas meal leftovers, but it’s important to store and prepare them properly to avoid feeling unwell. When you are finished with the meal, leave any leftovers to cool at room temperature, then cover the leftovers and place them in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours. A good tip for when you have a lot of leftovers of the same food is splitting it into smaller portions, so that the food cools quicker and you can freeze and defrost only what’s needed for future dishes. Bear in mind, chilled leftovers should be eaten or frozen within 2 days, within 1 day for rice dishes.

Remember, food poisoning from turkey is not always just a “tummy bug” – for the elderly, immunocompromised and pregnant women the infection can be life-threatening. So, before you gobble-gobble up your Christmas turkey this year, take the time to carefully plan and prepare your meal to ensure the safety of your family.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at BioLabTests!