Consumer: Season’s eatings come with a warning

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Defrosting and DIY basics can all help contribute to a pain-free christmas day. Aisha Iqbal reports.

Seven in 10 people who buy a frozen turkey for their Christmas dinner - almost 11 million of us - leave it in an unsafe place to defrost.

Our habit of falling foul of festive hygiene has led to the creation of the UK’s inaugural National Defrost Your Turkey Day. This was after a survey found millions have been thawing their bird in places such as the bath and the garden shed.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) found 69 per cent of Britons who buy a frozen turkey for their Christmas dinner thaw it unsafely.

The FSA said just one in four of those who bought a frozen turkey safely defrosted it in the fridge, leaving the rest putting themselves and their families at risk of food poisoning.

The agency is warning that incorrect thawing provides a platform for bacteria such as campylobacter to spread, leaving a turkey dinner that “looks and tastes delicious but contains a hidden risk that can’t be seen, tasted or smelled”.

More than 3,000 cases of campylobacter were confirmed in England and Wales between late December 2013 and the start of January, according to FSA figures.

The watchdog is reminding cooks that a typical large turkey weighing 11kg will take two days to thaw.

FSA head of foodborne disease Kevin Hargin said: “We all love our turkey dinner at Christmas and this year should be no exception.

“It’s the little things you do that can make a real difference.

“So if you make sure that your turkey is defrosted safely and in good time, you can enjoy your meal happily and safely.”

The FSA advises that those preparing a turkey from frozen should follow the retailer’s recommended defrosting time and defrost the bird in the fridge if possible or somewhere cool to slow the growth of germs.

The turkey should be covered while defrosting, either within the original packaging or in a container to hold any thawing juices at the bottom of the fridge to avoid cross-contamination.

It warns that turkey should be defrosted thoroughly as otherwise it may not cook evenly and harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process.

Meanwhile more than 402 households in Leeds are expected to experience some sort of domestic disaster this Christmas, according to research by British Gas. The firm predicts that around 17,000 households across the country in total will experience problems like a broken boiler and loss of heating and hot water on Christmas Day.

Christmas can be a stressful time of year and our homes are also under extra pressure – the heating is working overtime, our ovens are working flat out and extra guests mean that every room in the house is probably in use.

British Gas will have 900 engineers working across Britain on the day. It also expects to receive up to 7,500 calls to its call centres and will have 280 staff manning the phones.

In Leeds, British Gas engineers visited 58 customers to help them with their boilers and central heating during Christmas week last year.

Matthew Bateman, managing director of the firm’s residential services, said: “A Christmas Day disaster can ruin the holiday - that’s why we’ve got 280 people in our call centres ready to speak to customers who might be having problems.

“For us, Christmas Day is about helping our vulnerable customers like the elderly, and those who have no heating or hot water.

“We also want to make people aware of a few small things they can do to help avoid disasters in the home this Christmas. Checking your boiler and insulating your pipes are just a couple of jobs you can complete to help keep your family safe and your homes warm and working this winter.”

Leon Bellamy, an engineer who will be working in Leeds on Christmas Day, said: “Your boiler failing at any time of year is a real pain, but on Christmas Day it’s even worse. That’s why we’re here ready to go out to customers who may need an engineer on Christmas Day. We’ll be working closely with the call centre staff to ensure we’re able to get out to those most in need.”

Dean Johnstone, chief executive of Minds Ahead and joint leader of the centre of excellence in Leeds.

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