Turkey Survey Shows 16% Contain Dangerous Bacteria
Nov. 18, 1999 (Washington) -- When family and friends gather around the
Thanksgiving table next week, the last thing they want to think about is food
poisoning. However, an annual survey of turkey safety shows that although
progress is being made, consumers need to take precautions against potentially
lethal bacterial infections.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) did an analysis of 50
turkeys purchased during the last few weeks in Chicago, Miami, Washington, New
York, and Los Angeles. The birds were selected from different stores and were
equally divided between fresh and frozen. Kosher and organic turkeys were also
represented among the brands tested. The findings were released at a news
conference here Thursday.
According to CSPI, 28% of the fresh turkeys were contaminated by
Campylobacter bacteria vs. 4% for the frozen fowl. Overall, 16% of the
birds tested were Campylobacter positive vs. a 90% rate in a survey
conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) two years
California turkeys had the highest rate of Campylobacter infection,
which can cause cramping, diarrhea, fever, and, in rare cases, death. "Most
surprising of all, not one of the 50 turkeys was contaminated with
Salmonella. Thus, the new hazard control systems in turkey plants appear
to be reducing Salmonella," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI's
director of food safety. California's contamination rate may be related to a
warmer climate and, possibly, differences in food handling practices, she
CSPI, the group noted for warning about the nutritional evils of such
favorites as theatre popcorn and Chinese food, says the turkey survey is good
news but nothing to gobble about, because it covered such a small sample. The
findings can't be considered definitive. Still, says DeWaal, "Both the
Salmonella results and the Campylobacter results are far better
than we expected."
According to the CDC, Campylobacter and Salmonella account for
half the deaths and most of the serious infections linked to food poisonings in
fowl in the U.S. "Salmonella is much more likely to go to the
bloodstream, and much more likely to kill people," says Judy Johnson, PhD,
a University of Maryland pathologist who spoke at the news conference.
DeWaal was critical of turkey processors for not publicly sharing data on
the progress of their hazard analysis program to improve food safety, when
other meat producers have already done so. The hangup, says DeWaal, is USDA's
failure to develop a "performance standard" for testing turkeys.
Sherrie Rosenblatt of the National Turkey Federation tells WebMD that the
industry has been working with the government to develop a new industry-wide
standard that will make product safety more than just a "marketing
Meanwhile, there are steps consumers can take to protect themselves from
fowl gone foul. "The bottom line is consumers should treat every turkey
like it's potentially contaminated ... because we know those hazards are in the
flocks. We know that it's in the slaughter plants, and they could be coming
home on your Thanksgiving turkey," says DeWaal.