With Thanksgiving one week away, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta are warning consumers of a salmonella outbreak across 35 states (as of this morning) linked to the crowning glory of most Thanksgiving tables: turkey – specifically raw turkey. More than 60 people have been hospitalized due to this particular strain of salmonella.
This outbreak isn’t new. The antibiotic-resistant strain was first reported back in July. What is new is that it’s spread to 35 states from 26 this summer. You’ll find information from the CDC on the outbreak here, along with a map of affected states.
FOLLOW. THE. BASICS.
We regularly work with our friends at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to provide tips and guidelines for avoiding foodborne illness. Here’s what you need to know this Thanksgiving.
The Four Steps To Food Safety
The FSIS works hard to make sure the food you bring home is safe, but there’s always a chance of contracting foodborne illness a.k.a. food poisoning. To minimize this chance remember: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.
- CLEAN hands, surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw food, particularly meat, poultry or eggs. The USDA conducted research this year and found the majority of participants didn’t know, or didn’t choose to follow, proper hand-washing techniques. Such as washing your hands for 20 seconds. To make it easy, that’s about the length of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice – slowly to be safe. You can also time it out on your smart phone or Fitbit. Get a feel for 20 seconds. It makes a huge difference. Dry your hands on a clean dish towel or single-use paper towel as this can help remove microbes left after washing. Note: no apron-drying, mom.
- Use SEPARATE cutting boards, plates and utensils to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat, poultry and foods that are ready-to-eat. The USDA study showed that unsafe food-handling behaviors led to bacteria from raw poultry being spread to other locations like spice containers, refrigerator-door handles and water-faucet handles. Salmonella has been shown to survive on surfaces that have come in contact with raw poultry for up to 32 hours. Think about that: 32 hours.
- Confirm foods are COOKED to a safe internal temperature by using a food thermometer. You can find food thermometers at most grocery stores, at mass retailers, or online. Invest in one. You can get a digital food thermometer for generally between $10-$30 dollars based on brand and functionality. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just find one and use it. A recent USDA study found that only 12 percent of participants cooked poultry to the safe internal cooking temperature of 165 degrees F. Your turkey should not only be cooked to this internal temperature, it should be checked in three places to ensure none is undercooked—the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing.
- CHILL foods promptly if not consuming immediately after cooking. Don’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours.
Preparing Your Turkey
- Fresh Turkey. Fresh means it has never been chilled below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Fresh turkeys should not be purchased until one or two days before Thanksgiving. Many stores will allow you to reserve a fresh bird for pickup the day prior. If you bring a fresh turkey home before Tuesday, it needs to be frozen before cooking.
- Frozen Turkey. This has been cooled to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Most U.S. turkeys are frozen. If you’re going this route, be sure and give yourself plenty of time to defrost properly. Speaking of which…
- Thawing the Right Way. Thawing on the counter is unsafe. There are three safe ways to thaw: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. It will take 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. To go the cold water route, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing. If you’re thawing via microwave, simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific make and model.
- Wash your hands not the turkey. According to the USDA, 68 percent of consumers wash poultry in the kitchen sink. This is not recommended. You should avoid washing turkey before cooking. Juices that splash during this unnecessary bath can transfer bacteria to other surfaces, foods and utensils. If you must wash to marinate or brine, thoroughly sanitize all your kitchen surfaces after to eliminate the risk of cross contamination.
- Don’t stuff it. At least not the night before. Harmful bacteria can multiply in the stuffing when a bird is refrigerated. Stuff your turkey just before placing it in the oven.
Cooking Your Turkey
- Refer to the timetables provided by the USDA for approximate cooking times for different sizes and cuts of turkey. Your turkey is done when it reaches 165 degrees F as measured by a food thermometer. This is the temperature necessary to kill harmful bacteria. Check your bird in the three areas outlined above. Manufacturers may recommend higher temperatures to achieve best results; however, this is your base minimum.
Remember, CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, CHILL.
Follow these basics to keep your Thanksgiving flavorful and safe.
Have questions about Thanksgiving? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish. You can also chat live at AskKaren.gov. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.