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If your turkey is frozen, make sure it's properly defrosted before you cook it. If it's still partially frozen, recommended cooking times won't be long enough to cook it thoroughly. This means bacteria that cause food poisoning could survive the cooking process.

So, before you start cooking, make sure 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.

It's very important to 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 (see the estimated times below or use our handy guide).

What to do When you start defrosting, take the turkey out of its packaging, put it on a large dish and cover. The large dish is to hold the liquid that comes out as the turkey thaws. Remove the giblets and the neck as soon as possible, because this speeds up thawing.

Put the dish in a cool, clean place (ideally the fridge) where the turkey won't touch other foods. If it isn't possible to defrost your turkey in the fridge, you could use a cool room, or a garage. Remember that the temperature of the place where the turkey is kept will affect thawing times.

If you're defrosting your turkey somewhere cold, such as the garage or garden shed, watch out for sudden extremes in temperature, if it gets very cold (or very warm), this could mean the turkey won't defrost properly or won't be kept cold enough. Keep the turkey covered and make sure that pets and young children are kept away.

You could also defrost it at room temperature, but make sure it doesn't touch or drip onto other foods.

Pour away the liquid that comes out of the defrosting turkey regularly, to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. But be careful not to splash the liquid onto worktops, dishes, cloths or other food. And remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw turkey, giblets or any other raw meat.

How long to defrost To work out the defrosting time for your turkey, check the packaging. If there aren't any defrosting instructions, use the following times (or our Turkey defrosting guide) to work out roughly how long it will take to thaw your turkey, but remember to check that it's fully thawed before cooking.

In a fridge at 4ºC (39ºF), allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg, but remember not all fridges will be this temperature. In a cool room (below 17.5ºC, 64ºF) allow approximately 3 to 4 hours per kg, longer if the room is particularly cold. At room temperature (about 20ºC, 68ºF) allow approximately 2 hours per kg. When your turkey is fully defrosted, put it in the fridge until you are ready to cook it. If this isn't possible make sure you cook it immediately.

It's very important to keep raw poultry away from food that is ready to eat. This is because if raw poultry, or other raw meat, touches (or drips onto) these foods, bacteria will spread.

Remember, bacteria can also spread from raw meat and poultry to worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils. So, to keep your Christmas food safe, remember to do the following things:

Always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly, after touching raw poultry. Don't wash your turkey (or other poultry) – this is because bacteria can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill any bacteria, so you don't need to wash poultry. Always clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they have touched raw poultry. Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry 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). When you are storing raw meat, to help stop bugs spreading you should remember to:

Always keep raw poultry away from other foods. Store raw poultry at the bottom of the fridge so it can't drip onto other foods. This advice applies to poultry such as turkey, chicken, duck and goose, and game such as partridge and pheasant.

It's very important to plan your cooking time in advance, to make sure you get the bird in the oven early enough to cook it thoroughly. A large turkey can take several hours to cook properly.

How to check your bird is cooked These cooking guidelines are only estimates; always check that the bird is properly cooked before serving, because eating undercooked turkey (or other poultry) could cause food poisoning.

These are the three main ways to tell if poultry is cooked:

the meat should be steaming hot all the way through when you cut into the thickest part of the meat, none of the meat should be pink if juices run out when you pierce the turkey, or when you press the thigh, they should be clear

How long to cook These cooking times are based on an unstuffed bird. It's better to cook your stuffing in a separate roasting tin, rather than inside the bird, so it will cook more easily and cooking guidelines will be more accurate. (If you cook your bird with the stuffing inside, you will need to allow extra time for the amount of stuffing and allow for the fact that it cooks more slowly.)

Remember some ovens, such as fan-assisted ovens, might cook the bird more quickly – check the manufacturer's handbook for your oven if you can. Always check that the meat is cooked thorougly before serving.

As a general guide, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4):

for a turkey under 4.5kg, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey weighing between 4.5kg and 6.5kg, allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey over 6.5kg, allow 35 minutes per kg Tip: 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.

Remember, some ovens, such as fan assisted ovens, might cook the poultry more quickly. Follow the pointers in the 'How to check your bird is cooked' section above, to decide when it's done.

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