Food safety alert: Multistate outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella linked to raw turkey

As Thanksgiving nears, contaminated turkey has sickened 164 people in 35 states

The outbreak of Salmonella Reading, which has been going on for nearly a year, has led to 164 illnesses, including 63 hospitalizations and one death.

“Multidrug resistance” means that some antibiotics won’t kill the strain of Salmonella Reading that’s responsible for the outbreak. Fortunately, most infections in the current outbreak are susceptible to antibiotics that are commonly used for treatment, “so this resistance likely will not affect the choice of antibiotic used to treat most people,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The illnesses have been linked to different types and brands of raw turkey products (including pet food), and investigators haven’t identified a single source or supplier. The Salmonella strain responsible for the outbreak could be widespread in the turkey industry, the CDC says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t published the names of brands linked to the outbreak, so treat any raw turkey as if it could be contaminated.

Planning on turkey for Thanksgiving? Handling raw turkey carefully can prevent cross-contamination, and cooking it thoroughly will kill Salmonella.

Avoid cross-contaminating your other groceries

At the supermarket, put your fresh or frozen turkey in a separate plastic bag before putting it in your cart, to prevent contaminating other foods (like fresh fruits and vegetables).

Don’t see plastic bags in the meat department? Grab one from the produce section (and ask your grocer to keep a supply where the meat and poultry are sold). Or come prepared and bring your own.

Buying frozen? Here’s how to properly thaw

Turkey, or any other meat, should never be defrosted at room temperature. The safest way to thaw your turkey is in the refrigerator, so plan ahead: Turkeys need approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of weight. Put the bird on a plate, to catch any liquid as it thaws.

Once thawed, cook your turkey within 1 to 2 days or refreeze it.

Is it safer to rinse off the turkey before cooking?

Nope. Water can splash any bugs that are on the turkey onto countertops, other food, towels, and you. It’s best to transfer the turkey straight from package to pan. The heat required for cooking will kill any bacteria.

Cooking and storing your turkey

Turkeys should only be cooked once they are completely thawed. Your oven temperature should never be lower than 325°F.

Cook the turkey to at least 165°F. Use a food thermometer (not just the pop-up thermometer that may have come embedded in the turkey) in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, the thickest part of the breast, and in any stuffing.

The safest way to cook stuffing is on the stove or in the oven—separate from the turkey. (If you cook the stuffing inside the bird, loosely stuff the turkey just before you put it in the oven, with three-quarters of a cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165°F.)

Here are approximate cooking times for turkey. But it’s always best to use a thermometer to check when yours is done:

For a higher-quality roast, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes to allow the juices to set. That will also make it easier to carve.

Cleaning up after the big meal

Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly. Turkey, like any perishable food, shouldn’t be left out for more than 2 hours.

Leaving cooked food at room temperature is an invitation for bacteria that can cause food poisoning—like Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus—to multiply. (And reheating the leftovers won’t destroy their toxins or spores.)

Take care with chicken

Does the latest outbreak have you thinking about switching to chicken? Be sure to handle it safely, too. The CDC is also investigating a multistate outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella infections linked to raw chicken products. The outbreak strain of Salmonella Infantis has infected 92 people in 29 states, including 21 hospitalizations.

Photo: BVDC/

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