Stay food safe this Christmas

Your poultry doesn't need a bath, and other food safety tips for the festive season

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DON'T BATH THE BIRD: Washing raw poultry is unsafe.

DON'T BATH THE BIRD: Washing raw poultry is unsafe.


Food poisoning risk: Nearly half of all Australians still wash raw chicken before cooking.


Nearly half of all Australians still wash raw chicken before cooking, exposing themselves, family and friends to food poisoning, say safety experts.

Washing any raw poultry, whether it is chicken, duck, goose or the Christmas turkey, is unsafe as it can spread bacteria to your hands, surfaces and other foods that may not be cooked, said Cathy Moir, Chairwoman of the Food Safety Information Council.

Washing is also unecessary as cooking poultry to 75°C in the centre of a fillet or the thickest part of the thigh will kill any bacteria.

"'We are pleased that rates of washing raw whole chicken has reduced from 60 per cent to 49 per cent since we last asked this question in 2011," she said. "Cooks who wash raw chicken pieces with skin on has also reduced from 52 per cent to 43 per cent and washing skinless pieces from 41 per cent to 40 per cent.

"The survey found that chicken is a popular dish with 78 per cent of respondents cooking whole chicken, 83 per cent cooking chicken pieces with skin on and 88 per cent cooking skinless pieces.

Key Christmas and summer entertaining food safety tips:

  1. Wash hands: Another recent survey has found the number of times people wash their hands each day dropped 15 per cent since last year. Don't forget to wash your hands with soap and water before preparing and cooking food, and after handling shell eggs, seafood, raw meat and poultry, burgers and sausages.
  2. Clean utensils: Ensure your tools, utensils and chopping-boards are cleaned and dried thoroughly before you start preparing your food and ensure you clean them with hot soapy water after use. Use separate chopping-boards such as red for raw meat/poultry and green for vegetables.
  3. Don't strain your fridge: Plan ahead and don't buy more food than you need. It's vital that you don't overstock your fridge and freezer, as this won't allow the cool air to circulate freely and perishable food cannot be adequately frozen or chilled. Less food will also help to reduce food waste.
  4. Make space: Prevent overstocking by making room in your fridge for perishable foods by removing alcohol and soft drinks and putting them on ice in a container or laundry sink. This also stops guests opening the fridge so often and helps to maintain the temperature at 5°C or below. Use a fridge thermometer to check the fridge temperature.
  5. Bird or bits? Think about getting a turkey breast that is simpler to cook, rather than a whole turkey. If you do need a whole turkey ask your supermarket if they sell them fresh rather than frozen. Otherwise it must be covered and defrosted in your fridge which can take several days and also increase the risk of potentially contaminating ready to eat foods stored in the fridge.
  6. Cook poultry correctly: Cook poultry until a meat thermometer shows it has reached 75° C in the thickest part of the thigh and cook any stuffing separately as it will slow the cooking and the inside of the bird might not be fully cooked. Probe thermometers are readily available, easy to use and help you make sure that food has reached the right temperature.
  7. Don't go raw. Cooked egg dishes are simple and nutritious but try to avoid raw or minimally cooked egg dishes, such as raw egg mayonnaise or aioli, eggnog or fancy desserts like tiramisu, which can be a particular risk for food poisoning. A safer alternative, if you want to serve raw egg dishes, is to use pasteurised egg products.
  8. Christmas ham won't last forever- check the storage instructions and best before or use by date before removing the ham from its plastic wrap, cover it with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn't dry out, and store it in the fridge at or below 5°C. Keep the cloth moist to stop the ham drying out too much. It is important to remember that the use by date on the original packaging won't apply after the packaging has been removed, so check the fine print and see if the ham has a suggested shelf life after opening. Reduced salt hams are now becoming popular but will not last as long as conventional hams so think how much you are going to use in the next week or so and freeze the rest for later.
  9. Phased roll-out: Don't leave perishable chilled foods out for more than two hours. These foods include cold meats, soft cheeses like Camembert and Brie, cold poultry, cooked seafood like prawns and smoked salmon, pâtés, sushi and salads. Put out small amounts and replace them (do not top them up) from the fridge.
  10. Get it cold, quick. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. If perishable foods and leftovers have been left out of the fridge for less than two hours they should be okay to refrigerate or freeze to eat later, so long as they haven't been sitting out on a hot day. Never eat perishable food that has been unrefrigerated for more than four hours as it may not be safe and should be thrown away. Food should not be refrigerated if it has been outside in the heat for more than an hour and discarded after it has sat outside for two hours.
  11. Get it right hot. Always reheat leftovers to 75°C the centre of the item or the thickest part to kill any food poisoning bugs. Use a probe thermometer or the auto reheat function of your microwave (following any prompts) to help you make sure that the leftovers have been reheated safely.