Inviting Salmonella to your festive dinner this year? A dietetic holiday lecture (you were warned!)

This post is about how to keep your gut healthy this christmas and avoid an infection of your digestive tract. What do I mean by this? Well, you might be at risk of an infection resulting in severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain and sickness during the holiday if you are not observing some food hygiene tips when preparing or eating food. No one would want this and we do have evidence that some people have a legacy of functional gut symptoms (irritable bowel syndrome) after such infections – worth a little bit of care then, to avoid.

Here is what the Food Standards Agency and NHS choices advises: (mercilessly ripped from their websites – but they are the experts!! Thank you to both organisations, see below for links)

Understanding ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates
‘Use by’ dates appear on foods that go off quickly. It can be dangerous to eat food past this
date, even though it might look and smell fine.
Check the ‘use by’ dates on the food in your fridge on a regular basis and be sure to use (eat, cook or freeze) food before its ‘use by’ to help you avoid throwing food away unnecessarily.

You can freeze food anytime up until the ‘use by’ date. Check the packaging to make sure
it’s suitable for freezing.
Once food with a ‘use by’ date has been opened, follow any storage instructions such as ‘eat
within 3 days of opening’, but not if the ‘use by’ date is tomorrow.
Best before’ dates appear on food with a longer shelf life. They show how long the food will
be at its best quality. Using food after the ‘best before’ doesn’t mean it will be unsafe. The
exception to this is eggs, providing they are cooked thoroughly, they can be eaten a day or
two after their ‘best before’ date.

Fridge looks like this at Christmas? Seriously – asking for an infection!

Use leftovers safely
Eating leftovers can be a good way of making food go further.
If you are going to store leftovers in the fridge, cool them as quickly as possible (ideally
within 90 minutes) cover them and eat them up within two days.
If you are going to freeze them, cool them before putting them in your freezer. Once food is
in the freezer, it can be safely stored for a considerable time – but the quality will

Eurgh! Cover your food – even if close to serving!

deteriorate so it’s best to eat it within three months.
Make sure you defrost leftovers properly before reheating. Defrost them in the fridge
overnight, or in the microwave if you intend to cook them straightaway.
Eat leftovers within 24 hours of defrosting and do not refreeze. The only exception is if you
are defrosting raw food, such as meat or poultry, once it’s cooked it can be refrozen.
Cook leftovers until steaming hot throughout.
Don’t reheat leftovers more than once.

Plan your meals
Before you go shopping check what’s in the fridge and freezer.
Think about what you are going to eat that week, plan your meals and write it down.
Make a list of what you need to buy and stick to it! Impulse buys can be expensive and, if not part of your plans, could lead to something else being wasted.
If you do get tempted by special offers in the shop, such as ‘buy one get one free’, think
about adjusting your meal planner for the week to add it in, or freeze the extra pack before
the ‘use by’ date, ensuring that it is possible to freeze the food. Or you could cook larger
portions and save some for another time.
Label food and date it before it goes in the freezer, so you know what it is and how long it’s
been frozen for.

Preparing and cooking your turkey here is what NHS Choices recommend:

Defrosting your turkey

If you buy a frozen turkey, make sure that the turkey is properly defrosted before cooking it. If it’s still partially frozen, it may not cook evenly, which means that harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process.

Defrosting checklist:

  • Work out defrosting time in advance, so you know how much time to allow – it can take at least a couple of days for a large turkey to thaw.
  • When you start defrosting, take the turkey out of its packaging, put it on a large dish and cover. The dish will 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. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw turkey, giblets or any other raw meat.
  • Before cooking, make sure there aren’t any ice crystals in the cavity. Test the thicker parts of the turkey with a fork to tell whether the meat feels frozen.
  • Turkey (and any other poultry) is best defrosted in a covered dish at the bottom of the fridge so that it can’t drip onto other foods.
  • Pour away the liquid that comes out of the defrosting turkey regularly to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. Be careful not to splash the liquid onto worktops, dishes, cloths or other food.
  • If the bird is too big for the fridge, put it somewhere out of reach from animals and children, and where it won’t touch other foods. For example, a cool room, shed or garage.
  • If you’re not using the fridge, watch out for sudden changes in room temperature as they could prevent the turkey from thawing evenly.

Defrosting times

To work out the defrosting time for your turkey, check the packaging for any guidance first. If there aren’t any defrosting instructions, use the following times to work out roughly how long it will take to thaw your turkey.

  • In a fridge at 4ºC (39ºF), allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg, but remember that not all fridges will be this temperature.
  • In a cool room (below 17.5ºC, 64ºF), allow approximately three to four hours per kg, or longer if the room is particularly cold.
  • At room temperature (about 20ºC, 68ºF) allow approximately two hours per kg.

When your turkey is fully defrosted, put it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it. If this isn’t possible, make sure you cook it immediately.

Preparing the turkey

Wash you hands before preparing or touching food.

Keep the uncooked turkey away from food that’s ready to eat. If raw poultry, or other raw meat, touches or drips onto these foods, bacteria will spread and may cause food poisoning.

Bacteria can spread from raw meat and poultry to worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils. To keep your Christmas food safe, remember the following things:

  • After touching raw poultry or other raw meat, always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly.
  • There’s no need to wash your turkey before your cook it. If you do, bacteria from raw poultry can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill any bacteria.
  • Always clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they have touched raw poultry or meat.
  • Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry or meat and ready-to-eat food without washing it thoroughly in warm soapy water. If possible, use a separate chopping board just for raw meat and poultry.
  • Cooking times The cooking times below are based on an unstuffed bird. It’s better 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 bird with the stuffing inside, you need to allow extra time for the stuffing and for the fact that it cooks more slowly. Some ovens, such as fan-assisted ovens, might cook the bird more quickly – check the guidance on the packaging and the manufacturer’s handbook for your oven if you can.As a general guide, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF, 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’s between 4.5kg and 6.5kg.
    • Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey of more than 6.5kg.

    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 it every hour during cooking. There is some debate over the cooking times so have a look at the Live Well website comments below – and also check out the time for other birds.


Best not to watch this next one if you have a sensitive disposition! I don’t remember this video being released – very good though!

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I am a state registered dietitian. My speciality is dietary treatment of gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, crohns disease, ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease, lactose & fructose malabsorption and multiple food intolerances. I have had lots of experience in other areas of dietetics and I wished to start this blog to spread the word about evidence based dietary treatments and dispel much of the quackery that is common with these diseases. All information on this site is of a general nature and is based on UK based treatments and guidelines. Please see your healthcare practitioner should you need more country specific information.

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