Raw turkey products have been linked to an outbreak of salmonella infection affecting 164 people in 35 states, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak does not mean you have to forgo the traditional turkey this Thanksgiving. “The biggest thing people can do is be very careful about how they are handling food,” says Dr. Pritish Tosh, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic.
“There are several bacterial pathogens that can exist on raw turkey,” says Dr. Tosh. “The one we are most concerned about is salmonella, which is a bacterial infection. It can cause diarrhea, but it can also cause more severe infection in people who are sicker or have poor immune systems, or otherwise have lots of medical problems to begin with.”
When preparing raw turkey, it’s important to take steps to avoid cross-contamination. Dr. Tosh says the issue of cross-contamination is not just limited to turkey. “Any sort of raw meat needs to be carefully handled, and anything that has touched that raw meat should be considered contaminated, including your hands. Whether it’s uncooked ham, turkey or a piece of beef, really consider everything that that has touched to be contaminated and clean it well.” Dr. Tosh says that includes cleaning countertops, cutting boards, utensils and trays so that anything you subsequently put on that tray or touch with your hands will then remain clean.
Along with proper preparation of your turkey, Dr. Tosh says it’s important to help others stay healthy during the holidays by taking other precautions. “Make sure you practice good food handling practices, but also good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, so that while you’re preparing foods, you are preventing cross-contamination by keeping things clean, especially if it’s touched raw meat. Also, avoid going to family gatherings if you are sick. If you absolutely have to go, do what you can to keep your hands clean. Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than into your hands.”
Review these tips to prevent salmonella infection from a raw turkey:
- Use hot, soapy water to wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces, including cutting boards.
- Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods ─cooked or raw. Use separate cutting boards or platters for meats, fruits and vegetables, and other food.
- Cook raw turkey thoroughly to kill harmful germs. All turkey and poultry products, including casseroles and stuffing, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to kill harmful germs.
- Thaw or defrost your frozen turkey in the refrigerator.