It's important to cook poultry thoroughly, because bacteria can be present all the way through the meat. If it's not cooked all the way through, bacteria may survive. This can give you food poisoning.
Poultry includes meat from birds, for example:
It's important to cook eggs thoroughly too, to prevent food poisoning. There can be bacteria on the shell of an egg, as well as inside it.
You should always practise good hygiene when handling any food, including poultry and eggs, to stop bacteria spreading. For example:
Wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water before handling poultry, whether it's raw or cooked.
Wash your hands thoroughly again, after you've handled raw or cooked poultry.
Wash and dry your hands thoroughly after touching eggs or working with them.
Use different kitchen equipment for cooked and raw poultry, such as chopping boards, knives, plates and bowls.
Clean all your equipment and work surfaces thoroughly.
Clean up any spills, such as raw egg, immediately.
Is it frozen?
If the poultry you want to cook is frozen, you must defrost it before you cook it.
If you cook poultry before it's properly thawed, it may not be cooked thoroughly. Bacteria that cause food poisoning could survive the cooking process.
With a whole frozen bird, such as turkey or chicken, allow plenty of time for it to thaw. The larger the bird, the longer it will take to defrost.
When you thaw frozen poultry, lots of liquid comes out. The liquid spreads bacteria to anything it touches, including other food, plates and work surfaces, as well as your hands. So good hygiene is very important.
Defrosting frozen poultry
To defrost frozen poultry, take the bird out of its packaging and put it in a large dish. You may want to make a note of any instructions on the packaging before throwing it away.
Cover the dish, for example, with foil. Put it in a cool, clean place, ideally the fridge. Don't allow raw poultry to touch other foods.
If you can't use the fridge, put the dish in a cool place, such as a cool room or the garage. Remember that changes in the room temperature can affect the thawing time. For example:
If the room gets colder, it will take longer to thaw.
If the room gets warmer, the poultry may not be kept cold enough.
Every so often, pour away the liquid that comes out of the poultry, to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. If you spill any, clean it up with warm soapy water.
Keep pets and children away from the poultry while it's defrosting.
The thawing time will vary, depending on the bird's weight and where you put it to defrost. The Food Standards Agency gives the times below as a guide for defrosting a turkey:
In a fridge at 4C (39F) - allow about 10-12 hours per kg, but remember not all fridges will be at this temperature.
In a cool room (below 17.5C, 64F) - allow approximately 3-4 hours per kg, longer if the room is particularly cold.
At room temperature (about 20C, 68F) - allow approximately 2 hours per kg.
Remember to check that the poultry is thawed properly. Make sure there are no ice crystals in the cavity of the bird. You can also test the thicker parts with a fork, to check if it feels frozen.
Once the poultry is defrosted, put it in the fridge until you're ready to cook it. If this isn't possible, for example, because it won't fit, you should cook it as soon as you can. If you know your turkey won't fit in your fridge, you can take this into account when planning your defrosting and cooking times.
Dealing with the giblets
If there are giblets inside the bird, take them out as soon as you can. If the bird is frozen, this will help it to defrost faster.
Giblets usually include the bird's heart, liver and gizzard, and sometimes its neck. They can be used to make stock for gravy.
Giblets are raw meat. If you're going to use them, cook them as soon as you can. Or put them in a sealed container in the fridge until you're ready.
If the giblets are frozen, you'll need to thaw them properly before you cook them.
What about stuffing?
If you want to have stuffing, it's best to cook it separately, rather than putting it inside the bird. Then it will cook more quickly, and the cooking times are likely to be more accurate.
If you do cook poultry with stuffing inside, you'll need to allow extra time, both for the stuffing to cook, and because the bird will cook more slowly.
Cooking your poultry
If you're cooking a whole bird, such as a turkey, it's important to preheat your oven.
It's a good idea to plan your cooking time beforehand. This will help to make sure the turkey's cooked. It will also help if you're cooking other things, such as potatoes or green vegetables, to serve at the same time.
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F, Gas Mark 4). Allow enough time for it to reach the right temperature, before you put the bird in to cook. You don't need to wash the poultry first - water splashes can spread bacteria, and proper cooking will kill any bacteria.
Remember to take any giblets out of the bird before you cook it (see 'dealing with the giblets' above).
Some types of poultry take longer to cook than others. And larger birds take longer than smaller ones. For example, a large turkey will take several hours to cook properly.
Cooking times are usually measured in minutes per kg of the bird's weight. For example, the Food Standards Agency gives the general guide below on cooking times for a turkey:
Allow 45 minutes per kg, plus 20 minutes extra, for a turkey under 4.5kg.
Allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey weighing between 4.5kg and 6.5kg.
Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey over 6.5kg.
Other birds, such as chicken, duck or goose, will need different cooking times and different oven temperatures. And some types of oven cook food more quickly than others, for example, fan-assisted ovens. Check the manufacturer's handbook if you can. Or check in a cookery book.
The skin of poultry is much higher in fat than the meat. One way you can reduce the fat is to put the bird on a metal rack in the roasting tin, rather than in the tin itself. This allows the fat to run off.
How can I check if it's cooked?
Before you serve poultry, you need to be sure it's thoroughly cooked and piping hot all the way through. Piping hot means that it's hot enough for steam to come out.
Eating poultry that is undercooked (rare) can give you food poisoning.
To check if it's cooked, pierce the thickest part of the bird's legs with a clean skewer or knife. The thickest part is usually between the drumstick and the thigh.
Check the colour of the juices that come out. If the bird is cooked, the juices will be clear, not red or pink.
You can also check if it's cooked by cutting the thickest part of the meat. If it's cooked, none of the meat should be pink.
If the juices don't run clear, put the bird back in the oven and allow for more cooking time. Then check the juices again, to make sure they are clear before you serve.
Can I keep the leftovers?
If there's some poultry left, you can keep it to eat another day, as long as you store it safely.
Cool the poultry as quickly as possible, ideally within one to two hours, until it reaches room temperature. Cover it or put it in a sealed container, then put it in the fridge. Remember to keep cooked poultry separate from raw poultry or meat.
Always use up any leftovers from the fridge within a couple of days.
You can also freeze the leftovers. Remember - you'll need to defrost the food thoroughly before using it. And once it's thawed, reheat it thoroughly before serving it.
If you decide to reheat leftovers from the fridge or once they've thawed, check that the food is piping hot in the middle before you serve it. And never reheat it more than once.