Christmas food safety

Christmas turkey cooking advice

If you buy a frozen turkey make sure that the turkey is properly defrosted before cooking it. If the turkey is still partially frozen it may not cook evenly and harmful bacteria like campylobacter could survive the cooking process.

Defrosting checklist

  • If you are using a frozen turkey check how long it takes to defrost safely. Follow any instructions on the packaging or use the defrosting times guidelines below.
  • To defrost the turkey take it out of its packaging and place on a large tray so that the dish can hold the liquid that comes out of the thawing turkey.
  • Remove the giblets and the neck as soon as possible to speed up the thawing process.
  • Do not wash raw turkey as the bacteria could be spread around your kitchen.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw turkey, giblets or any other raw meat and clean and disinfect the tray, utensils and work surfaces.
  • Turkey and any other poultry should be defrosted in a covered dish at the bottom of the fridge and ensure the turkey does not touch or drip onto other foods. If your turkey is very large and does not fit into the fridge then place in a cool room but ensure the temperature of the room is monitored so the turkey thaws evenly.

Defrosting times

To work out the defrosting time of your turkey always follow the guidance on the packaging however if there are no instructions you can use the following times below to work out how long your turkey will take to defrost.

  • Fridge - the temperature of the fridge should be 4oC (39°F) and allow around 10-12 hours per kg but ensure that you monitor the temperature of the fridge. 
  • Cool room - the temperature of the room should be below 17.5°C (64°F) and allow approximately three to four hours per kg or longer if the room is particularly cold.

Cooking the turkey

  • Plan your cooking time in advance to make sure you have enough time to cook the turkey. A large turkey can take several hours to cook and eating undercooked turkey or other poultry could cause food poisoning.
  • You can tell when a turkey is cooked by making sure the meat is steaming hot all the way through and when you cut into the thickest part of the meat there should be no pink and juices should run clear. 
  • If you are using a temperature probe or food thermometer, ensure that the thickest part of the turkey (between the breast and the thigh) reaches 70°C for two minutes.

Cooking times

  • The cooking times below are based on an unstuffed turkey and it is preferable to cook your stuffing in a separate roasting tin rather than inside the bird so that it will cook more easily and the cooking guidelines will be more accurate. If you cook your turkey with stuffing inside you will need to allow extra time for the stuffing as it will cook more slowly.
  • Some ovens such as fan–assisted ovens may cook the turkey more quickly so you must check the guidance on the packaging and the manufacturer’s handbook for your oven before you start cooking.

As a general guide with an oven preheated to 180°C (350°F, Gas Mark 4):

  • Allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey under 4.5kg.
  • Allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that is between 4.5kg and 6.5 kg.
  • Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey of more than 6.5 kg.

Cover your turkey with foil during cooking and uncover for the last 30 minutes to brown the skin. To stop the meat drying out, baste the turkey every hour during cooking.

Cooking times for other birds

Other birds such as goose and duck need different cooking times and temperatures. The oven should always be hotter for duck and goose in order to melt the fat under the skin.

  • Goose should be cooked in a preheated oven at 200°C/ 425°F /Gas Mark 7 for 35 minutes per kg.
  • Duck should be cooked in a preheated oven for 45 minutes per kg at 200°C / 400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  • Chicken should be cooked in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes.

Storing leftover food safely

  • Ensure that leftover turkey, meat and poultry are kept in the fridge at 8° C or below as if they are left out at room temperature food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply.
  • Once you have finished with the turkey, cool any leftovers as quickly as possible (within one or two hours) cover them and put them in the fridge. Leftovers should be used within 48 hours.
  • When serving cold turkey take out only as much as you need and put the rest back in the fridge. Do not leave turkey and other high risk foods out all day for example on a buffet as there could be a risk of bacteria forming and multiplying on the food.
  • When reheating leftover turkey or other food always make sure it is steaming hot all the way through before you eat it and do not reheat food more than once.

Further information

Visit the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.

Or download the advice sheet:

Christmas cooking advice sheet [PDF] (file size 217Kb)