Taking the stress out of Christmas dinner

Taking the stress out of Christmas dinner – how to ensure a safe and happy festive period

Christmas is fast approaching, and as ever looks set to be a busy and potentially stressful time. While 43% of people feel that buying presents is by far the biggest worry at Christmas, cooking Christmas dinner comes second along with family arguments! That’s not surprising considering that nearly a third of people will be eating Christmas dinner with more than seven guests and 45% will spend over five hours preparing and cooking the festive meal.

Rebecca Hardiman, Environmental Health Officer for Amber Valley Borough Council, says: “The Christmas period can also provide challenges when it comes to avoiding food poisoning. Cooking for more people than normal can mean having to handle different defrosting and cooking times for food, making sure that large amounts of food are stored safely, and ensuring that any leftovers are still safe to eat, all while reducing unnecessary food waste.”

Dr Kevin Hargin, Head of Foodborne Disease at the Food Standards Agency, commented: “If you’ve got family over for Christmas, there’s a lot to think about – from present shopping to where everyone’s going to sleep. In that long list of things to consider, it’s very important that food safety isn’t forgotten about. Planning is key, so make sure you follow some straightforward steps to ensure Christmas this year isn’t remembered for all the wrong reasons.”

The Food Standards Agency has produced the following tips to ensure everyone has a happy and healthy Christmas.

Before Christmas – starting to plan

  • Start thinking about the meals you’d like to eat over Christmas, thinking about what you’ll need to buy (and when) and writing a shopping list.
  • The FSA has produced a downloadable festive meal planner which can help www.food.gov.uk/christmas


  • Cold temperatures slow the growth of germs so make sure your fridge is running at the correct temperature - below 5°C - and is not overcrowded.
  • To prevent cross-contamination, ensure that you store raw turkey (and other raw foods) separately from cooked or ready to eat food, covered and chilled on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

Preparing the turkey

  • If you are using a frozen turkey, make sure you check how long it will take to defrost safely using the turkey packaging instructions or at www.food.gov.uk/christmas
  • To prevent the spread of food poisoning germs like campylobacter, make sure that you wash everything that has touched your raw turkey (e.g. hands, utensils and work surfaces) with soap and hot water.
  • Don’t wash your raw turkey under the tap as this can splash germs around your kitchen.
  • Check the turkey is cooked thoroughly - there should be no pink meat in the thickest parts and it should be steaming hot with juices running clear.

Dealing with leftovers

  • If you’ve got leftovers, you should cool them, cover and ensure that they go in the fridge or freezer within 1-2 hours. If you have a lot of one type of food, splitting it into smaller portions will help it to cool quicker. 
  • Leftovers should be eaten or frozen within two days (one day for rice dishes).
  • Make sure that when you come to use frozen leftovers, you defrost them thoroughly in the fridge overnight or in a microwave (on defrost setting) and then reheat until steaming hot.



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