Food poisoning risk higher at Christmas


Consumers are more at risk from food poisoning in their homes at Christmas than at any other time of the year, according to the Food Safety Promotion Board.

A "Tips for Christmas" brochure launched yesterday by the board is part of an awareness campaign to reduce the incidence of food poisoning over the holiday season. It is available free at five supermarket chains including SuperValu, Dunnes Stores, Superquinn, Tesco Ireland, Marks & Spencer, and most butchers in the State.

According to the board, Christmas is the highest risk time because people buy more food than usual, fridges are overstuffed and raw meat contaminates ready-to-eat foods. Food poisoning "can be dangerous and cause long-term health problems" said Mr Martin Higgins, interim chief executive of the Food Safety Promotion Board.

"At Christmas we all have more food in our kitchens and we put in more effort to entertain family and friends. Many people aren't aware of the risks from raw or undercooked meat and poultry and don't realise that other foods can become contaminated with bacteria even in the fridge."

Turkey is potentially the greatest offender, although other raw meats may also contain bacteria such as salmonella or campylobacter. Adequate cooking kills these bacteria but cooking a turkey, chicken or goose can be risky if not done properly. Foods are also left out in warm rooms for too long and turkeys are not defrosted enough before cooking.

The booklet includes recipes for Christmas dinner and what to do with leftovers, as well as a number of rules for chefs. They include:

Store raw meat, including turkey, on the bottom shelf of the fridge and do not let other food come into contact with raw meat or fish or unwashed vegetables.

Fridges should be kept below five degrees and freezers below minus 18 degrees.

A frozen turkey/goose must be fully defrosted before cooking.

The safest way to defrost it is in the fridge. The turkey/goose should be placed on the bottom shelf and make sure it cannot drip onto other foods.

Allow at least 24 hours defrosting for every 4/5lbs (2/ 2.5kg) of weight.

For further information, contact the Food Safety Promotion Board's safefood helpline on 1850 404 567.