Christmas is coming and the turkey questions keep rolling in! So here are some simple answers and top tips to keep you safe this Christmas. Watch this space – more updates to come!
Q How do I store the raw turkey?
- In the fridge – lowest shelf, protected from any foods that are ready to eat.
Q Should I wash raw turkey?
- Absolutely not – never!!! If you wash turkey you risk spreading germs all over your kitchen sink, draining board and anything else in the vicinity. Try not to handle it too much either – anywhere it’s been needs disinfecting – use an antibacterial spray such as Dettol. And don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly using soap and dry with a paper towel. I wash my hands twice after handling raw meat and poultry just to be on the safe side.
Q What if I don’t have room in the fridge?
- If your fridge is too full for the turkey, then you need to think about making space quickly, because it is not just the raw turkey that needs storing, it will be the left overs too – and believe me they are even more important! So at this time of the year it is a good idea to carry out a “fridge audit.”
- Have you anything in your fridge that is out of date? Get rid of it! What about all those half empty bottles and jars of things that say “refrigerate and eat within 2 days of opening” and you opened them 6 months ago? Get rid of them!
- At a push, if there are things in the fridge that don’t need to be in the fridge, put them in a cool dry place for the Christmas period – for example, I know people who store things such as peanut butter in the fridge – it needn’t be there!
- Also for a few days, it won’t harm to store pickled onions, ketchup, chutneys etc in a cool box in the garage to make room for the high risk foods.
- Vegetables, fruit and un-prepared salad items such as tomatoes, cucumber and peppers can all be left in a cold area such as the garage (protect against pests if you need to by storing in a cold box).
- If it is cold outside, you could even leave milk outside in a cool box (out of the sun). You can also freeze skimmed milk if you have space in the freezer
- Get some ice for the freezer and use this in ice boxes for wine and Champagne if space is at a premium.
Q What temperature should the fridge be?
- Preferably below 5 °C.
Q How do I tell the temperature of the fridge?
- You may have a digital indicator on the fridge but if not, use a fridge thermometer, or put a probe thermometer in for a few minutes. You may want to do this from time to time even if you have a read out as they can go wrong.
- If it is not cold enough, turn it down. I would turn it to its lowest setting anyway as it is going to be working hard over the festive period.
Q What if I have a frozen turkey?
- You need to defrost the turkey all the way through before cooking and the safest way is in the fridge, on the bottom shelf, in its cooking tray to catch the drip. Look at the label for a guide about how long it takes – it is a few days usually so don’t leave it till the last minute!
- Don’t be tempted to speed things up and defrost at room temperature or the bacteria on the outside will have a field day multiplying whilst the interior is frozen.
- If you cook it when it is not defrosted the bacteria in the frozen parts will wake up and start growing as the heat won’t reach the middle.
- Dispose of the drip carefully as it is likely to contain some nasty bacteria, so disinfect the sink after you have poured it away.
Q When cooking the turkey how do I know it is cooked?
- The label will give you an idea of oven temperatures and times so you can plan your day.
- Don’t stuff the turkey as this adds to the weight and can make it more difficult for heat to penetrate. Put stuffing in a separate tray.
- To check it is cooked, I always use a thermometer – make sure you disinfect the probe tip by dunking in boiling water first (a cup of just boiled water will do), then place it in the thickest parts of the bird – do a few places as the heat may not be evenly distributed.
- If you want an easy life, you are looking for a temperature of at least 75 °C. If you want to take a bit more time over it, you can cook to a slightly lower temperature, for example 72 °C for 2 minutes – it is highly likely that after you take it out it will carry on cooking and actually rise in temperature as it rests – keep an eye on it. By taking the temperature you will find you get a much better eating quality because you won’t OVER cook it!
Q Can I cook the turkey on a low heat overnight to save time in the morning?
- I really don’t recommend this – low temperature cooking can be incredibly dangerous even in experienced hands, and let’s face it, we don’t cook such a big item very often. If you are not careful you could be incubating bacteria rather than killing them off! The last thing you want is to poison your friends and family, especially as you may have elderly relations and young children at the table.
- If you arrange your day so dinner is at about 4pm then you have no need to do any fancy over-night cooking – leave that to professionals. The safest thing is to cook the turkey on the day, to temperature as above. Once it is in the oven, it really isn’t much hassle.
Q What do I do about left-overs?
- After you’ve eaten your Christmas dinner the last thing you want to do is spend hours in the kitchen – but then the last thing you also need is food poisoning! All cooked and ready-to-eat foods (even vegetables can cause food poisoning).
- After your dinner, if you do nothing else, gather up your left overs and get them in the fridge – they will be cold enough by the time you have had Christmas Pudding.
- Always wash your hands really well before handling left-overs
- If you want to be super-organised, slice left over meat, cover and put in the fridge, break down the bird so that it takes up less space.
- Put all the veg in one dish, cover and put in the fridge
- Don’t forget to refrigerate left over gravy too – bacteria just love this!
- If you boil up the bones for stock, then when it is done, strain and then put the covered pan of stock in a sink of cold water for 30 minutes to cool down, and then decant into smaller containers, label and freeze.
Q How long do I keep left overs for?
- In the freezer, bacteria don’t grow, so they are safe there till you want them, but most tasty in the first month
- In the fridge, I would not keep left overs from Christmas day in the fridge for longer than 27th December. Bacteria grow in the fridge, slowly – but the warmer your fridge, the faster they grow, so keep an eye on the temperature particularly as all the family will be opening the door to dive in for drinks and snacks!