Christmas dinner health warning for those thinking about stuffing their turkey

While there are many delicious components to a traditional Christmas dinner, the turkey is typically the centrepiece. Some families take great pride in selecting the perfect bird and cooking it to perfection for the big day.

However, a common practice when it comes to preparing the meat could be putting your health at risk. According to food safety experts, stuffing the turkey could actually lead to food poisoning.

Guidance updated this year by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has warned against cooking a turkey with stuffing inside. Instead it should be cooked in a separate tin.

“Cook the stuffing in a separate roasting tin, not inside the turkey,” the FSA says. “A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook and may not cook thoroughly if it has not reached the correct temperature throughout.”

If the turkey does not cook thoroughly, harmful bacteria is able to survive. This could put you and your guests at risk of food poisoning.

To know whether the turkey is safe to eat it should be “steaming hot”.

“Make sure your turkey, or any other bird you’re preparing for Christmas, is steaming hot and cooked all the way through,” the FSA says.

“If you do not have a meat thermometer or temperature probe, cut into the thickest part of the meat, check that none of the meat is pink and that any juices run clear.

“In a whole bird, the thickest part of the meat is the area between the leg and the breast.”

And to minimise the risk of food poisoning you should also make sure you clean any work surfaces, chopping board or utensils raw poultry has been in contact with, the FSA says.

It adds: “To work out the cooking time for your turkey, check the retailer’s instructions on the packaging.”

If there are no cooking instructions, a rough guide for an oven preheated to 180C (gas mark four) is:

  • Allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey that weighs under 4.5kg
  • Allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs between 4.5kg and 6.5kg
  • Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs over 6.5kg.

The advice comes despite other recipes that recommend placing the stuffing inside the bird.

BBC Good Food says: “Pack the stuffing in the neck end. Secure the neck skin with skewers and tie the legs together.”

And Mary Berry’s recipe for a traditional roast turkey includes filling the neck end with stuffing, and the “body cavity with any lemon trimmings, the herbs and the onion”.

Another health issue to consider with the turkey is making sure it is properly defrosted.

“If your turkey is not fully defrosted before cooking, it may cook unevenly,” the FSA says.

“This means harmful bacteria can survive the cooking process and you and your guests will be at risk of food poisoning.”

It is thought around 28 percent of people purchase a frozen bird.

The FSA advises that you start defrosting their turkey three to five days early.

It says: “Do not defrost your turkey at room temperature, instead, you should defrost your turkey in the fridge (on the bottom shelf).

“Ideally, defrost your turkey in a container big enough to catch any drips to avoid cross-contamination.

“Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling any part of the raw turkey.”

According to the FSA, a “typical large turkey” weighing six to seven kilos could take as much as four days to fully defrost in the fridge.

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