Important Food Safety Tips for Turkey Day

Americans need to pay more attention to how they prepare and cook their turkey this Thanksgiving, a consumer advocate said Thursday, because a dangerous bacteria called Campylobacter might be lurking in the birds.

According to Caroline Smith de Waal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a government survey published in August found that 90 percent of turkeys at processing plants were contaminated with Campylobacter. This survey was conducted before the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered meat and poultry producers to adopt new safeguards at slaughterhouses and processing plants to reduce bacterial contamination. Campylobacter causes diarrhea and nausea. It has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious illness involving temporary paralysis.

There is some evidence that Campylobacter contamination is reduced by freezing poultry, but contamination can happen at the retailer and at home, and people cooking turkeys should adopt safe handling practices.

  • Frozen turkeys can be defrosted in the refrigerator, allowing a day for every five pounds.
  • They can also be thawed in cold water if the bird is submerged and the water changed every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes per pound to defrost.
  • Anything that comes into contact with a raw bird should be scrubbed thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
  • A thermometer should be used to check doneness. The bird is considered safe for eating when the thigh temperature hits 180 degrees Fahrenheit and all other parts at least 160 degrees.
  • Stuffing should be loose and moist, allowing for greater killing of bacteria while cooking. The stuffing should reach 165 degrees.
  • Turkey leftovers should be immediately refrigerated or frozen.
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