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Cooking a safe and healthy Christmas dinner

Cooking a safe and healthy Christmas dinner

This Christmas looks set to be quieter affair than usual, however most of us will still be enjoying a traditional turkey dinner. safefood’s Rob Walsh looks at what you need to know for a safe and healthy Christmas

Our research shows that 25% of people in Northern Ireland and 9% in the Republic of Ireland will be cooking turkey for the first time this year. To help with the task at hand, safefood has all the Christmas cooking advice and recipes you need to have a safe and healthy Christmas.

Christmas grocery shopping

For fresh turkey, you need to cook it no later than two days after buying. If you are buying it in person, bring the turkey home as quickly as possible in a separate cool bag. Store your turkey in the bottom of the fridge away from other cooked foods and fresh produce to avoid cross contamination. If you are buying in person this year, bear in mind there may be longer queues than usual so wrap up well.

Advice for Christmas dinner 2020

As a result of limited numbers for social gatherings, many may find themselves cooking for fewer people than in previous years, or indeed cooking for themselves or for others for the first time. safefood’s guide to buying, storing and defrosting your turkey gives helpful advice for dealing with birds of all sizes in the run up to Christmas. If defrosting, it is important to allow at least 24 hours defrosting for every 4/5 lbs (2/2½ kg) of weight. If in doubt, check out our Turkey Defrosting Time Calculator table below:


Size of turkey

Defrosting time in fridge

8-12 lbs / 3.5 – 5.5kg

2- 3 days

12-14 lbs / 5.5 – 6.5 kg

3 - 3 ½ days

14-18 lbs / 6.5 – 8kg

4 - 4 ½ days

18-20 lbs / 8 – 9kg

4 ½- 5 days

20-24 lbs / 9 – 11kg

5 – 6 days


Whether cooking from fresh or defrosted, we recommend following our advice for preparing, stuffing and cooking your turkey and Chef Adrian’s tips for a perfect Christmas dinner.

More importantly, our turkey cooking time calculator will tell you how long you need to cook your turkey. To check that your turkey is fully cooked, it should be piping hot all the way through, the juices should run clear and there should be no pink meat left.  If you have a meat thermometer check that the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 75°C instantaneously i.e. the probe should read 75°C as soon as it is inserted. If you choose to stuff the Turkey, then the center of the stuffing should also be piping hot. Temperature and time settings for cooking are dependent on your oven. Be careful that your usual Christmas cooking times may not be appropriate for smaller numbers this year and can lead to under or over cooking.

Remember also to be mindful of food sensitivities, food intolerances and food allergies if cooking for others this year.

Vegetarian Christmas recipes and healthy options

If you’re looking for a vegetarian alternative to turkey, nut roast is probably the most common. Nut roast can be easily homemade or bought in leading supermarkets. safefood’s full range of Christmas recipes (vegetarian and non), as well as ideas for healthy Christmas options can be found below:

Making the most of your Christmas leftovers

This year, you may find yourself with more Christmas leftovers than in previous years. This is great news for Christmas leftover lovers! To keep everyone safe, follow our leftover advice (link to page) which includes:

  1. When you have cooked food and you are not going to eat it straight away or if there are leftovers after serving, place on a clean plate, cover and refrigerate within 2 hours.
  2. Throw away any high-risk food that has been standing at room temperature for more than two hours and throw away all food scraps.
  3. Remember to use clean dishes and utensils for cooked food to prevent cross-contamination.
  4. Dividing food into smaller portions and putting it in a shallow dish can help to make it cool more quickly.
  5. When you are cooling a turkey or other large bird, removing the legs will help it cool more quickly. It is important that leftover cooked rice is quickly cooled and then refrigerated.
  6. Remember not put food in the fridge when it is still hot, because it could raise the temperature of the fridge and allow other foods to get too warm.
  7. Never reheat leftovers more than once.
  8. Leftovers stored in the fridge should be eaten within three days.

Staying safe and warm at outdoor gatherings

If you are planning to meet neighbours, family or friends in an outdoor setting this Christmas, it’s important to keep warm while doing so. We’ve prepared some ideas for some soupy winter warmers to heat everyone up outdoors.

Be sure to follow safefood on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date on food safety and healthy eating advice in the run up to Christmas dinner 2020. In the meantime, if you’ve any questions or are in need of some food safety advice for Christmas dinner 2020, safefood’s Christmas chatbot is here to help and is available on Facebook Messenger, Alexa and Google Assistant.

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