Caution advised due to salmonella outbreak from raw turkey

In light of a recent outbreak of salmonella food poisoning across the country, including Connecticut, home cooks are being reminded that food safety is especially important when preparing holiday meals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 164 people, across 35 states, have become ill from an outbreak of salmonella infections linked to raw turkey products. Of those, 63 have been hospitalized, and one death was reported in California.

The outbreak strain of salmonella has been identified in various raw turkey products, including ground turkey and turkey patties. The outbreak strain has also been found in raw turkey pet food and live turkeys, indicating it might be widespread in the turkey industry, according to the CDC.

A single, common supplier of raw turkey products or live turkeys has not yet been identified, and the matter is under investigation.

Salmonella is a bacterium that sometimes turns up in the food supply. It thrives in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans and is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States.

People get sick from salmonella 12 to 72 hours after swallowing the germ and experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

The CDC is not advising consumers to avoid eating properly cooked turkey products, or for retailers to stop selling raw turkey products.

For food and health safety, the Connecticut Department of Public Health offers these tips to avoid salmonella during holiday cooking:

Wash hands. Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and dry with a paper towel following restroom use, before preparing foods, after handling raw meat and before eating.

Wash and sanitize food-contact surfaces. Bacteria can spread and get onto cutting boards, knives and countertops. Many home dishwashers now come with a sanitizing cycle option. If unavailable, sanitize utensils and other items that come in contact with food, by immersing them for at least one minute in a clean solution containing at least 50 parts per million of chlorine (one teaspoon of 5.25% household bleach per gallon of water). Wash fruits and vegetables with water before preparing.

Thaw properly. Thaw frozen turkeys in a refrigerator with a temperature of 41º F or less (allow three to four days for thawing); placing under cool running water at a temperature of 75º F or less; or thaw in a microwave and cook the turkey immediately.

Take temperatures. Cook the turkey at 325º F until its internal temperature reaches at least 165º F. Cooked, hot foods should be kept at 140º F or warmer. Be sure to use a food thermometer to check temperatures.

Stuffing. Prepare the stuffing and the turkey just before cooking. Using a cold stuffing may make it more difficult to reach the safe temperature of 165º F. Stuff the turkey loosely. For a safer approach, cook stuffing separately.

Keep it cold. Cold foods should be kept at 41º F or less. After the turkey is served, immediately slice and refrigerate on shallow platters.

Transport safely. Keep hot foods hot (140º F or above) and cold foods cold (41º F or lower).

Reheat. Leftover turkey and stuffing should be stored separately in shallow dishes or platters. Rapidly reheat leftovers to a minimum internal temperature of 165º F.

Don’t cross contaminate. Put the turkey directly into the roasting pan when removing it from the wrapper to avoid contaminating the sink and other surfaces with bacteria that are often present on poultry.

Don’t cook when ill. Don’t prepare foods if experiencing symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea.

For more information and free literature about food safety, call the Food Protection Program at 860-509-7297.