Food Safety

Don’t let your Thanksgiving take an unhealthy turn

Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pie!  Thanksgiving brings wonderful memories of family, friends and home cooked meals for many Americans.  Let’s do our best to keep it that way!  Giving your guests food poisoning is a surefire way to turn wonderful memories into sad ones.

Raw or undercooked poultry has been strongly associated with foodborne illness. Two of the more common bacterial foodborne infections are Campylobacter and Salmonella. Properly cooking meat will kill these bacteria.

Campylobacter is a bacterial pathogen that causes fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps usually within 2-5 days of exposure. These bacteria live in the intestines of healthy birds, and most raw poultry meat has Campylobacter on it.  Eating undercooked poultry or other food that has been contaminated with juices dripping from raw poultry (like stuffing that is inside the bird) is the most frequent source of this infection. 

Salmonella is another bacterial pathogen that has been associated with raw or undercooked poultry. Symptoms of infection typically occur 1-3 days after exposure and include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.  In persons with poor underlying health or weakened immune systems, it can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.  Additional symptoms of both infections may include vomiting, headache or bloody diarrhea.

As you prepare your Thanksgiving meal, it is very important to follow a few, key tips to avoid getting sick:

  • When defrosting a turkey, you want to keep it at a safe temperature (below 40 degrees).  Defrosting the bird on the counter does not keep it at a safe temperature – the center may be frozen, but the outside is at room temp which means bacteria could multiply. Defrost your turkey either in the refrigerator or in cold water.  USDA has very helpful information on thawing your turkey either in the fridge or in cold water.  See their chart here.
  • Whereas it was once recommended to wash your raw turkey (or any type of poultry) prior to cooking, that is no longer the case.  Do not wash your turkey as the bacteria can aerosolize, plus it isn’t necessary as cooking will kill any bacteria. Several food agencies including USDA advise against it.
  • Raw meat should always be kept separate from any other food you might be preparing.  It is recommended that you use a separate cutting board for raw meat and your other ingredients.  If you must use the same, be sure to wash your hands, the cutting board, and any utensils with hot soapy water.  It is also recommended that, if you use a dish washer, that you use a dish washer safe cutting board for your raw meat.  Many people use plastic cutting boards for meat rather than wood for this reason.
  • Be sure your turkey is cooked thoroughly! USDA also has great information on cooking times for your turkey.  Click here for that info.  When cooking your turkey, be sure the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees.  While cooking your stuffing outside of the turkey is safe, many choose to put it inside the bird.  Keep in mind that the stuffing must reach 165 degrees.   It is recommended that you stuff the turkey just before cooking to minimize the time it spends inside a raw turkey.  Checking the temperature of the stuffing is extremely important.  Raw turkey juices have dripped into your stuffing and can be dangerous if not properly cooked.  Once cooked, remove the stuffing from the turkey.  Don’t let it sit in there.
  • To safely keep food warm prior to serving, keep it at 140 degrees.  Cover food with foil to keep it moist and put it in a 140 degree oven for up to two hours.
  • Leftovers shouldn’t be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.  Refrigerate or freeze promptly. When you are ready to eat it, reheat to 165 degrees or until steaming.  Bring gravy to a rolling boil. 

If you feel you may have contracted a foodborne illness, please contact your healthcare provider. A health care provider should be consulted for any diarrheal illness that is accompanied by 

  • high fever (temperature over 101.5 F, measured orally)
  • blood in the stools
  • prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up
  • diarrheal illness that lasts more than 3 days

 APHL wants to wish everyone a happy and HEALTHY Thanksgiving!

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