DENVER, CO – Your Thanksgiving bird could be a real turkey this year if you do not take precautions. A salmonella epidemic linked to raw turkey has made 164 people sick in 35 states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warning people to be particularly careful when treating raw turkey. In Colorado, six people have fallen ill so far.
The drug-resistant salmonella form is linked to a person's death in California. In addition, the CDC said that on Thursday 63 people were hospitalized because of the epidemic. Three of those who got sick got sick after feeding their pets, and three others worked in a turkey factory or lived with someone who did it.
The CDC said the epidemic was not isolated from a single supplier of raw turkey or live turkey products, and the strain could be spread throughout the turkey sector.
Minnesota and Illinois reported the majority of salmonella cases related to raw turkey, with 17 and 16 cases each. Public health officials in California, New York, and Texas reported 13, 12, and 11 cases, respectively, as the epidemic was reported for the first time in mid-July.
The CDC is not recommending that people do not serve Thanksgiving turkey, or that retailers do not sell it. Rather, advise the agency, wash your hands thoroughly after handling the raw turkey and make sure it is well cooked.
"This focus points out that raw turkey products can have germs that spread around food preparation areas and can make you sick," said the CDC.
Symptoms of salmonella infection typically include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps within 12 to 72 hours after eating salmonella-infected food. Most people recover in four or seven days without medical treatment, but some experience diarrhea that is severe enough to require hospitalization. In some cases, salmonella can spread from the intestine to the bloodstream and then to other parts of the body. Children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 65 and people with a weakened immune system are more prone to severe illness.
To prevent the spread of salmonella, follow these tips:
Wash your hands often. Salmonella infections can spread from one person to another, so wash your hands before and after preparing food, after contact with the animals and after using the toilet or changing diapers.
Make sure the turkey is thoroughly cooked to kill harmful germs. The CDC says turkey breasts, whole turkeys and ground poultry – including turkey hamburgers, stews and sausages – should always be cooked at an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the germs. Place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey. When heating leftovers, make sure that the internal temperature also reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do not pre-wash the turkey (or any other meat) before cooking. One might think that washing is the same as cleanliness, but this is not the case, according to USDA, which states that cross-contamination can occur when bacteria contained in meat and poultry juices can spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces. And some of the bacteria are so tightly attached to the meat that no amount of washing will detach it.
In addition to washing your hands, immediately wash counters, cutting boards and utensils with soapy water after touching the raw turkey. It is also advisable to use a separate cutting board for raw turkey and other raw meat, if possible, recommend the CDC.
The turkey is thawed in the fridge. If you are one of those cooks who prefer to defrost the bird in a cold water sink, be sure to change the water every 30 minutes. You can also defrost it in the microwave, but be sure to wash the inside when you're done. Never defrost the turkey on the counter.
Do not give pets raw diets, including raw turkey. The CDC says that germs like salmonella in pet food can make your pets sick, and you can get sick by handling raw food or taking care of yourself and playing with your pets.
By Beth Dalbey, Patch Editor
Photo by David Allen / Patch