Ten million turkeys are sold during the festive season and studies show that 20% of food poisoning outbreaks are poultry related, with December the most common single month, according to the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Most food poisoning incidents go unreported and to help combat these seasonal outbreaks, the FSA is launching its first TV advertising campaign focussing on food safety at Christmas.

The FSA has carried out consumer research looking at our typical Christmas kitchen preparation and cooking habits to identify the most common food hygiene issues.

The research revealed that nearly one third of Britons (32%) cook their stuffing the traditional way – inside the bird – a method that runs the risk that both the stuffing and the bird might not cook through fully resulting in the potential for food poisoning.
More than four fifths of Britons think they are doing the right thing by washing the turkey before cooking it when in fact, washing a turkey or any other bird can splash harmful bacteria already on the bird around the kitchen leading to the cross contamination of other foods. Proper cooking will eliminate any bacteria on the bird so there is no need to wash the turkey, according to the FSA.

Two thirds (64%) of people defrost their turkey by leaving it standing out in the kitchen, while one fifth (20%) follow the ideal advice and defrost their turkey in the fridge. The FSA advises people to defrost the turkey at room temperature allowing 1 hour per 450g if the turkey is too big for the fridge, taking care to make sure it is covered and does not touch any other foods. A quarter of the UK population intends to buy a frozen turkey this Christmas. One in twenty (5%) say they defrost their frozen turkey in the garden shed or garage. This figure rises to nearly one in ten (9%) in the Midlands.

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The FSA’s research also found that the average Christmas cook will be serving up dinner for more than seven people. 14% will be cooking for more than 10 people. People in the South East have larger Christmas gatherings than anywhere else in the country. One fifth (19%) cook for more than ten people compared to one in ten in Wales and the South West.
Despite cooking for large numbers, people still buy bigger turkeys than they need to. The average weight of a Christmas turkey is 12Ib – enough to feed 16 to 18 people.

Women still do the majority of the Christmas cooking – 65% of Christmas dinners will be cooked by women this year.

One in five (22%) are rejecting Christmas turkey this year in favour of alternative Christmas fare.

For information and advice from the FSA about food safety at Christmas, click here.