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Food takes centre stage at Christmas time, with lots of extra tempting treats. Here we share some key hints and tips to help you make the most of what you buy to reduce food waste, save time and money, plus important food safety advice.  

Our thanks to food safety expert (and Hub Trustee) Sarah Jackaman for compiling this guide to Christmas food planning and preparation. 

Planning ahead

Christmas is often a time when even more food is wasted. Lack of planning is often a key reason. Love Food Hate Waste offers a guide to Christmas which is great. Here are the key things to remember: 

  • Make room in your fridge and freezer before you shop and check what you already have. 
  • Make a shopping list and use the “shelfie” technique – use your phone to take a few photos of your fridge and shelves to help remind you of what you have as you shop. With the best will in the world, your list will never be 100% accurate! 
  • Only buy and cook food for the number you are feeding! Seems obvious, but as we all know it’s very easy to over cater. 
  • Make a food plan for the week of Christmas and don’t forget to include expected leftovers.  
  • Freeze food ahead of time. NB: After Christmas, follow all “Use By” dates even if it smells fine. 
  • You don’t have to go for turkey! Switch to chicken or something else if you have less mouths to feed or you don’t like it. Same goes for sprouts, parsnips and Christmas pud! 
  • Did you know, turkey crown is often twice the price £/kg compared to a whole bird? 

Keep Chillin! 

Get the most out of your fridge – efficiency and cost!  

  • Keep your fridge between 4°C to 5°C. 
  • Take out items that don’t need to be chilled from your fridge – soft drinks, jars, bread etc. 
  • Your garage or boot of your car are safe to store non-perishable food/drinks if the temp is below 5oC outside. 
  • Raw, ready to eat, and cooked food should always be kept in the fridge. 

Be prepared

  • Week before Christmas, check your food plan/menu and update your lists. 
  • Know where you will store extra food in your fridge and freezer. 
  • Make sure you have your basics covered – tin foil, washing up liquid etc 
  • Christmas Eve is the time to review safety, preparation and cooking information on food labels. Helps you get your cooking times in perfect sync! 
  • Veg can be peeled and prepared on Christmas Eve, leave covered in cold water. 
  • Share the jobs – and involve the children! 
  • Looking for new inspiration? We love Mary Berry’s Ultimate Christmas!

Freezing and thawing tips 

To keep everyone safe throughout the Christmas and New Year: 

  • Check that your fridge is cold enough after the Christmas food shop has been put away (between 4°C to 5°C). 
  • Take meat out of the freezer and defrost it on the bottom shelf of the fridge or a cool place. This is so that any juices can’t drip on ready-to-eat food as this could spread harmful germs.
  • Allow 10-12 hours of defrost time per kg. 
  • When defrosting any foods, it is safest to do this in the fridge because when food is above 8°C and below 63°C bacteria grow and multiply. Defrosting at room temperature means that the foods falls into this danger zone, increasing the risk of getting food poisoning. 

Frozen turkey this year? Read this! 

  • If your turkey is frozen, you need to make sure it’s properly defrosted before you cook it. If it’s still partially frozen when it goes in the oven, recommended cooking times won’t be long enough to cook it thoroughly.   
  • Before – it’s very important to work out defrosting times in advance so you know how much time to allow. It can take at least a few days for a large turkey to thaw. Never wash your turkey as this can spread harmful germs around your kitchen sink and surfaces.   
  • Defrosting in a fridge at 4ºC, allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg.   
  • During – put the covered turkey in a large dish on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it won’t touch other foods. This is to hold the liquid that comes out as it thaws. To speed up thawing, remove the giblets and the neck as soon as possible.   
  • Pour away the liquid that comes out of the defrosting turkey regularly to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. 
  • After – you can check that your turkey is fully defrosted by making sure that there aren’t any ice crystals in the cavity. You could also test the thicker parts of the turkey with a fork, to tell whether the meat feels frozen. Always check that it’s fully thawed before cooking.    

‘Use by’ and ‘Best beforedates

  • Check for best before and use by dates as you are shopping to effectively plan your meals, this ensures foods last longer and will make sure you’re not throwing away food unnecessarily. Ensure what you are buying will last enough days. 
  • In the run up to Christmas the supermarkets are extremely busy and handle a huge increase in volumes of foods, this can cause them challenges keeping the foods correctly stored and chilled.   
    • ‘Use by’ dates are about food and drink safety – typically for chilled items. These foods are potentially unsafe after this date  
    • ‘Best before’ dates are about the expected quality, colour, texture and flavour – typically for ambient/frozen products, some chilled dairy products, or prepared vegetables. These items will have a ‘once opened use within’ statement to follow. 
  • It’s ok to freeze products on the printed use by date. 

Portion sizes 

Tips on portion sizes and reducing food waste when feeding a large group:

  • If you’ve got big eaters, want leftovers, or have a smallish number of people (4-6), then cater for the higher of the two amounts for meat and roast potatoes.   
  • Approx 240g (3 x 80g) total vegetables per person. 80g is a portion size for your 5-A-Day. 
  • Approx 140-175g of cooked meat or other main dish per person. 
  • Save money by increasing side dishes (e.g. sausages/veg) and reduce main dish quantity. 
  • BBC Good Food has a useful portion planner which is a great guide here. 

Cooking safety 

  • To work out the cooking time for your turkey or meat joint, check the retailer’s instructions on the packaging.  
  • If there are no cooking instructions, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF or Gas Mark 4):  
    • allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey that weighs under 4.5kg  
    • allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs between 4.5kg and 6.5kg  
    • allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs over 6.5kg  
  • Make sure your turkey, or any other bird you’re preparing for Christmas, is steaming hot and cooked all the way through.  
  • If you don’t have a meat thermometer or temperature probe, cut into the thickest part of the meat to check that none of the meat is pink and that any juices run clear.  
  • In a whole bird, the thickest part of the meat is the area between the leg and the breast. 

Best way to use up leftovers   

There are lots of ways to use up and and reinvent your Christmas leftovers to make food go further.  

  • Freeze any leftovers for future dishes. Freezing acts as a pause button. It is safe to freeze food right up to and including the use by date.
  • You can freeze most food. This includes raw and cooked meats, fruit, potatoes (after boiling for five minutes), grated cheese, and eggs.
  • You can freeze cooked turkey, other cooked meats and meals made from previously cooked and frozen meat. It will be safe to eat for a long time, but you may see a deterioration in quality after 3-6 months. This is called freezer burn.  
  • Splitting leftovers into smaller portions will help cool food quicker. It may also be more convenient to freeze and defrost portioned meals later.
  • Label and date anything you are freezing so you can easily see what it is – you don’t want a UFO (Unidentified Frozen Object)!
  • Defrost food slowly and safely in the fridge or thoroughly in a microwave on the defrost setting. Don’t defrost at room temperature.
  • Make sure food has been fully defrosted, as partially defrosted food may not cook evenly. This means that harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process.
  • Once the food is defrosted, eat within 24 hours and do not refreeze.
  • For recipe ideas on using up Christmas leftovers visit the Love Food Hate Waste website. 

Take extra care with leftovers

Read before you have your first sherry on Christmas morning! 

  • After you have carved or served your main dish, cool any leftovers as quickly as possible (within 1-2 hours), cover and put them in the fridge or freezer. You could split the leftovers into smaller portions to help them cool quicker.  
  • When you’re serving cold meats or dishes, try to take out only as much as you’re going to use and leave the rest in the fridge. Don’t leave a plate of turkey or cold meats out all day at room temperature on a buffet, for example, because food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply. Put it back in the fridge as soon as you can, ideally within an hour.
  • You can freeze leftover cooked meat. In this case, you should take out as much as you need and defrost it in the fridge.  
  • Put leftovers in fridge within 2 hours, to be used within 2 days. 

General safety in the kitchen 

Tips to avoid raw and cooked cross-contamination 

  • When shopping, make sure you have enough bags to keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate.  
  • Always clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they have touched raw meat or poultry.   
  • Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry or meats and ready-to-eat food without washing thoroughly in hot, soapy water. Ideally, use a separate chopping board for raw meat and poultry.  
  • Always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly, especially after touching raw meats, poultry or fish.  
  • Keep dish clothes, tea towels and aprons clean and fresh. Daily change is ideal.   

Dos and Don’ts for reheating 

Reheating food is an excellent way to reduce food waste and allow for quick and easy meals throughout the holidays. 

  • Serve reheated food immediately. If food is not served immediately, the temperature will drop, and harmful bacteria could grow.  
  • If you are reheating food in a microwave, follow the product manufacturer’s instructions, including advice on standing and stirring. If you use a microwave to reheat food that you have cooked yourself, it is a good idea to stir it at stages while reheating, the food can be very hot at the edges.  
  • Remember, reheating means cooking again, not just warming up. Always reheat food until it is steaming hot all the way through; you should only do this once.  
  • To make sure that cooked or reheated food is safe to eat, always check it is very hot (steaming) all the way through and then, if you need to, let it cool a little before serving.  

We hope this article has been useful. Lots of #HubLove for a deliciously merry Christmas and happy New Year! #christmascountdown #christmasfood #zerofoodwaste #tastenotwaste #climateaction