The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued advice to prevent food poisoning over the holidays while Public Health England (PHE) has warned about norovirus.

There are an estimated 1 million food poisoning cases a year in the United Kingdom. It can have serious consequences, especially for children, those already in ill-health, and older people.

FSA told consumers to check the advice on packaging and follow provided instructions when cooking turkey. Before serving, it is important to use a thermometer to check foods — especially meat, fish and poultry — to make sure they have been cooked to the proper temperature to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites. Proper defrosting is also crucial for food safety.

A turkey should not be defrosted at room temperature. A large turkey weighing 6-7 kilograms could take up to four days to defrost in the fridge. In a fridge at 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees F), allow 10 to 12 hours per kilogram. Bacteria grow at temperatures above 8 degrees Celsius and below 63 degrees Celsius (about 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F) – the “Danger Zone” for microbial growth.

When shopping, take enough bags to separate raw and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination and store raw foods separately from cooked and RTE food.

Adam Hardgrave, head of foodborne disease control at the FSA, said the four Cs of food hygiene: chilling, cleaning, cooking and avoiding cross-contamination are especially important this time of year.

“In the flurry of preparing the Christmas meal, it’s important to plan ahead and allow plenty of time. Remember that an average-sized turkey can take four days to fully thaw in the fridge. It is vital to thoroughly cook your turkey,” he said.

“Cooking a Christmas roast for a large gathering can be a challenge. The turkey, or other meat of the meal, should be stored, defrosted and cooked correctly. Likewise, leftovers from Christmas need to be reheated and consumed within specific timeframes (and temperatures) in order to avoid food poisoning.”

Cooking thermometers should be placed in the thickest part of meat and poultry. For poultry, that’s between the breast and thigh. The bird is thoroughly cooked when the thermometer has reached a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius (158 F) for more than two minutes. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a temperature of 74 degrees C (165 F).

Be sure to clean food thermometers after each use to avoid cross-contamination during the cooking process.

Recommended cooking temperatures to kill foodborne pathogens are:

  • 63 C (145 F) – whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal with a stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature;
  • 63 C (145 F) – fish;
  • 71 C (160 F) – hamburger and other minced meat; and
  • 74 C (165 F) – all poultry and pre-cooked meats, such as sausages or hot dogs.

Leftover tips

  • Cool any leftovers at room temperature, then cover and ensure they go in the fridge or freezer no more than two hours. Decrease that time to one hour if ambient temperatures are above 32 degrees C (90 F). Leftovers should be eaten or frozen within two days, one day for rice dishes.
  • Cooked turkey, other cooked meat, and meals made from cooked and frozen meat can be frozen. But once defrosted, they should be eaten within 24 hours.
  • Previously cooked and frozen turkey can be used to make a new meal. This can be frozen too, but make sure it is only reheated once. When using frozen leftovers, defrost them thoroughly, ideally in the fridge overnight or use a microwave on the defrost setting.

Cleaning advice

  • Use different utensils, plates and chopping boards for ready-to-eat and raw food that requires cooking
  • Wash hands after touching raw meat and before handling RTE food
  • Don’t wash raw turkey or any other meat – it just splashes germs onto hands, clothes, utensils and worktops
  • Do not prepare food for others if suffering from food poisoning or an infectious illness

Say no to norovirus
Nick Phin, deputy director of the national infection service at PHE, said one of the best ways to protect against norovirus and help prevent infection is by good hygiene including thorough handwashing with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before preparing, serving or eating foods or beverages.

“Norovirus can be unpleasant and is easily passed on to those around you. Most people get over it within a day or two but in the very young, elderly or those who have weakened immune systems it can last longer and it is easy to get dehydrated, so it is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent this. It is transmitted by touching hands or surfaces that the virus has landed on. All surfaces should be thoroughly disinfected after any episode of illness,” he said.

“Those who have diarrhea and vomiting should not prepare food until 48 hours after symptoms have disappeared. We advise that they should avoid visiting GP surgeries (primary care doctors’ offices), care homes, and hospitals if they have symptoms. If anyone has symptoms and is concerned they should contact NHS 111 or talk to their GP by phone.”

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