Almost two-thirds of households in Northern Ireland said the rising cost of food was their biggest concern ahead of Christmas, according to a survey.

Research was commissioned by safefood as part of its annual Christmas food safety campaign. The group, which promotes food safety and nutrition in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, encouraged home cooks to use a meat thermometer to make sure their turkey is safely cooked.

A total of 62 percent of respondents identified the cost of food as their biggest concern as they plan Christmas dinner. This is an increase compared to 55 percent in 2022. Another survey by the Food Standards Agency also found people were worried about food prices.

The study of 1,000 adults in Northern Ireland found more than half of people are swapping full turkeys for turkey crowns or joints. In 2022, only 26 percent made such a move.

Use a thermometer and other advice
Trish Twohig, director of food safety with safefood, said the research suggests people are changing their choice of Christmas turkey amid rising food costs.

“Whatever kind of turkey you cook this year, using a meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of knowing when it’s cooked,” she said.

“To check that it’s cooked, take it out of the oven and pop the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat between the breast and the leg; when it reads 75 degrees C (167 degrees F), it’s safely cooked. Meat thermometers are affordable, easy to use and can be used on other meats during the year like chicken, pork, burgers and sausages to ensure they’re cooked all the way through.”  

A similar survey in the Republic of Ireland found more than four in 10 home chefs said the cost of food was their top concern when cooking Christmas dinner this year. While 52 percent are cooking a full turkey for Christmas, 33 percent are opting for a turkey crown.

Safefood also said people should clean their fridge with warm soapy water and re-arrange the shelves to make space for the turkey – which should be stored on the bottom shelf.  

Do not wash turkey as this can spread harmful bacteria to the sink and kitchen surfaces – proper cooking will kill any bacteria. Handle the bird as little as possible and remember to wash hands and any surfaces or utensils with hot, soapy water before handling other food. 

Always cover leftovers and place in the fridge within two hours of cooking. Ensure any meat is cooled as quickly as possible. Once in the fridge, any leftovers should be eaten within three days and only re-heat food once.

New Zealand advice
New Zealand Food Safety is also urging people to be aware of foodborne illness and shared five tips for good food safety practices.

“In the warmer summer months, we tend to eat outside, travel to enjoy picnics and barbecues, gather kaimoana more frequently, and enjoy social gatherings,” said Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general.

“The most common foodborne illnesses in New Zealand are campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis and yersiniosis. For people who are elderly, very young, immunocompromised, or pregnant, the complications can be severe and, in rare cases, fatal.”

Tips included handwashing with soap and warm water, avoid washing raw chicken, use separate utensils, chopping boards and plates for raw and cooked meat when barbecuing and check before taking food from the sea, also known as kaimoana, to make sure there are no related shellfish biotoxin alerts. Cooking does not kill these toxins but can remove Vibrio parahaemolyticus from shellfish.

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) in Belgium shared advice on serving safe appetizers, storing oysters, and dealing with leftovers.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) said common causes of food poisoning are insufficient heating, delayed cooling of food, storage at too high temperatures, or careless cleaning and kitchen hygiene. Vehicles of infection can range from raw meat, to rakfisk and fruit and vegetables. Guidance included not leaving hot food out for too long and keeping raw and RTE items separate. Sick people were also advised not to cook for others.

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