Tips for avoiding salmonella this Thanksgiving

UNH Cooperative Extension
Tuesday, November 20, 2018 10:47AM

With Thanksgiving this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to warn consumers about an ongoing outbreak of Salmonella reading across 35 states that is linked to raw turkey. Cases have been identified in two New England states: Connecticut and Massachusetts. The outbreak was first reported in July 2018 and continues today.

According to the CDC, the strain of salmonella has been identified in samples from raw turkey pet food, raw turkey products and live turkeys. Officials have not identified a specific supplier that links the cases, which indicates the infection might be “widespread in the turkey industry,” according to the CDC.

In light of this ongoing issue, it is vitally important that consumers follow safe turkey handling practices this Thanksgiving. Four of the most important guidelines to follow include safe thawing, preparation, cooking and storing leftovers. Turkey that is handled with food safety in mind should be safe to consume.

Safe Thawing: Thawing turkey at room temperature is not safe. Using this method allows salmonella that may be in the turkey to grow to unsafe levels. The safest way to thaw turkey is in the refrigerator. This may take up to six days, depending on the size of the turkey. Turkey thawed this way may be left in the refrigerator after it is thawed for one to two days prior to cooking. Keep refrigerators at 40 degrees or below.

Thawing your turkey in cold, drinkable water is another safe method. Submerge the turkey in cold water; change the water every 30 minutes. Make sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag in order to prevent cross-contamination and stop the turkey from absorbing water. Allow 30 minutes per pound for total thawing time. Turkey thawed this way should be cooked immediately.

Safe Preparation: Do not rinse turkey prior to cooking – it’s not necessary and can actually spread salmonella and other microorganisms to nearby kitchen surfaces. Rinsing the turkey can potentially spread salmonella to kitchen sinks, drains, counters, faucets and walls. Turkey is fully cooked at 165 degrees. This will kill or reduce to safe levels what is on the outside and in the cavity of the bird.

Safe Cooking: If you are roasting your turkey, set the oven no lower than 325 degrees. Regardless of how you cook your turkey, make certain the final temperature reaches 165 degrees as measured with a calibrated thermometer. The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing (cooked in the bird or not) must reach a safe temperature of 165 degrees. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and at the thickest part of the breast.

Safe Storage: Enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, but put away leftovers promptly. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours and use them within four days.

Following these guidelines will help keep you and your family safe during the holiday season. If you have additional food safety questions before the big day, call the UNH Cooperative Extension Infoline at 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also email questions to answers@unh.edu.

Ann Hamilton is a regional food safety field specialist with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Carroll County. She can be reached at ann.hamilton@unh.edu.