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Does Your Turkey Have Salmonella? Assume It Does

roast turkey

Nov. 15, 2018 -- With Thanksgiving just a week away, a leading consumer watchdog is warning the public that they have no way of knowing if their turkey might be infected with salmonella.

Consumer Reports this week urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to name the brands and raw turkey products that have made 164 people sick in 35 states since November 2017. More than 60 people have been hospitalized, and there has been one death attributed to the outbreak. The CDC has reported that many of those affected purchased ground turkey, turkey parts, or whole turkeys.

Sharing the brands and products would allow consumers to better protect themselves, Consumer Reports says.

Barring the release of that information, here are some steps you can take to be as safe as possible.

Assume your turkey has salmonella. While not an appetizing thought, the outbreak is widespread, and with so little information coming from regulators, no one should assume their bird is bug-free.

But there are ways to protect yourself. Some of these ideas are not new:

  • Wash your hands before and after handling raw turkey. Salmonella infections can spread from one person to another. In other words, don’t rub spices all over a raw turkey and then go shake Uncle Joe’s hand. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds
  • Don’t wash your bird. But always, always wash hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils with warm water and soap after coming into contact with the raw poultry. Washing poultry, especially a giant Thanksgiving turkey, can lead to raw poultry juices splashing around your kitchen. Campylobacter, a bacteria found in poultry products, has been shown to survive on countertops and other kitchen surfaces for up to 4 hours. And salmonella, another such bacteria, can survive for 32 hours, the USDA says.
  • The kitchen counter is not for thawing frozen turkeys. The refrigerator is. Of course, if it’s in the refrigerator, a frozen turkey will take longer to thaw, so plan accordingly. But you can thaw it in a sink filled with cold water (change the water every 30 minutes) or in the microwave.

Perhaps most importantly, cook that thing. No matter if you’re serving the full turkey, pieces and parts, ground turkey burgers, turkey casseroles, or turkey sausage, it must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to kill harmful germs. Don’t trust your gut: Use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the food to check. According to a USDA study, 88% of people surveyed did not cook their poultry enough.

Some people are more susceptible than others. People who have had organ transplants, those getting cancer treatment, people with diabetes, seniors, and pregnant women are all ripe targets for salmonella infection.

Also, don’t forget your pets: Do not feed your dog raw meat, either. The CDC says this strain of salmonella has also been found in raw turkey pet food in Minnesota. Your raw turkey might be infected, too. Don’t risk it.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on November 15, 2018

Sources

USDA.gov: “Share the Love, not the Bacteria.”

CDC.gov: “Outbreak of Multidrug-Resistant Salmonella Infections Linked to Raw Turkey Products.”

Consumer Reports: “CDC Reports Widespread Salmonella Outbreak From Eating Turkey.”

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