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Don't Let Salmonella Make Your Thanksgiving a Turkey

THURSDAY, Nov. 21, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- With Thanksgiving but a week away, U.S. health officials want to be sure you don't get sick from any salmonella that might be lurking in your turkey.

In a new report, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detail the tracking of a recent multistate outbreak of salmonella infections linked to raw turkey products.

All told, 356 people were sickened in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Among those patients, 44% were hospitalized and one died.

"We found this particular outbreak throughout the turkey industry," said lead researcher Rashida Hassan, a CDC epidemiologist.

Although the number of people getting sick from contaminated turkey has dwindled, cases are still being seen, she said.

"Our investigation ended in April of this year, because the number of cases we saw kind of slowed down, but they didn't completely go away. We have still seen people infected with this outbreak strain of salmonella, so people still continue to get sick," Hassan said.

According to Hassan, the CDC wasn't able to pinpoint the source of the contamination because it appeared to affect the total turkey supply chain.

Tainted products included whole turkeys, turkey parts and ground turkey. Salmonella was found in meat for both humans and pets.

Salmonella was also found in live turkeys, Hassan said.

"So, all of these pieces of evidence let us know that there was industry-wide contamination of this particular strain of salmonella, rather than being isolated to particular foods or facility, as we normally see in these foodborne outbreaks," she said.

A group that represents the turkey industry said it is doing its part to battle salmonella in turkey products.

The National Turkey Federation "is supporting research on the ever-changing nature of salmonella and how that knowledge can be used in practical applications," said Beth Breeding, a spokeswoman for the federation.

"We have also launched a focused communications effort to bolster consumer food-safety education," she added.

"The bottom line is that turkey is perfectly safe to eat when it is properly cooked and handled, and the best way for consumers to protect themselves from foodborne illnesses is to practice good food safety," Breeding said.

According to the CDC, the best way to stop salmonella in its tracks is to follow a simple set of steps. First, keep your turkey in the refrigerator in a leak-proof bag until you're ready to cook it.

Prevent the raw meat from coming into contact with other foods, which can cause cross-contamination. That means using a separate cutting board for preparing your turkey and being sure to wash your hands and any kitchen implements that came into contact with the raw meat.

Most types of salmonella bacteria can live on dry surfaces for up to four hours before they're no longer infectious. But some strains can live for four days and still make people sick.

The other source of salmonella is in an undercooked bird, Hassan said.

When cooking your turkey, be sure to use a meat thermometer. You'll know when the turkey is cooked through when the thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The reading should be taken in the thickest part of the breast, and because it takes dark meat longer to cook than white meat, temperature readings should also be taken in the leg and thigh, Hassan said.

Salmonella is a common contaminant in all poultry, and the steps recommended for cooking a turkey are the same for chicken and other poultry, she said.

According to the CDC, salmonella causes more than 1 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States each year.

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps anywhere from six hours to four days after infection.

The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. But it can be so severe that sufferers need to be hospitalized.

The report was published Nov. 22 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

More information

For more on salmonella, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Rashida Hassan, M.S.P.H., epidemiologist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Beth Breeding, spokeswoman, National Turkey Federation; Nov. 22, 2019, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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