When Preparing Turkey, You Can Reduce The Risk Of Salmonella Poisoning

Nov 20, 2018

Maine has so far been spared from a nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to raw turkey products.

The outbreak has affected 35 states, caused dozens of hospitalizations, and one death. With many consumers getting ready to prepare turkey for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, public health officials are encouraging the use of safe handling practices.

Salmonella is a common bacteria found in the guts of animals and humans, and it can also be found in raw poultry. Celeste Poulin, who oversees food safety as a division director at Maine's Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, says it is best to assume that raw poultry products have it.

"It is so common, it's, you know, you kind of expect it," says Poulin.

Though the state does test to ensure slaughter facilities meet federal salmonella standards, Poulin says minimizing risk of illness comes down to how consumers handle poultry at home.

"So an ounce of prevention here is really, going to be almost better than your cure,” Poulin says. “And that is washing your hands, washing your surfaces and making sure that any poultry is thoroughly cooked."

Thoroughly cooked meaning bringing poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. That goes for stuffing too, if it's cooked inside the bird instead of on the stovetop, says Maine state epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett. Bennett also stresses the importance of thawing frozen poultry in the refrigerator. She also says that home cooks should not wash the raw poultry itself.

"Because by washing it, there tends to be sometimes a lot of splatter, and you don't want to get those germs on other utensils and foods that might be in the area," says Bennett.

Signs of salmonella food poisoning include diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever. Bennett says most of those who get sick recover on their own within a week, but young children and seniors are at greater risk for complications.

Federal investigators haven't been able to identify a single supplier to account for the salmonella outbreak, which began a year ago, but last week food producer Jennie-O recalled more than 90,000 pounds of raw ground turkey products.

Originally posted 12:00 p.m. Nov. 19, 2018