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Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and I regret to inform you that there’s a multidrug-resistant salmonella outbreak running rampant in the nation’s poultry industry.
I know it’s scary, but ProPublica reporters spent months investigating how the fragmented food safety rules have left the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ill-equipped to deal with the outbreak. I know that I am.
I don’t bring up Salmonella to scare people (most ProPublica journalists who have eaten poultry before this story were written) but to help you. There are many steps you can take to protect your health, even though the FDA has not been able to curb the spread of infantis salmonella, which is a strain of salmonella that is difficult to treat.
For what it’s worth, salmonella tends to be found way more frequently in chicken than whole turkey, and the tips below apply to both birds (as well as just about any other) you wish to eat.
Check your Turkey with ProPublica’s chicken checker.
Your turkey’s packaging should come with a P-number. It’s usually found on the USDA mark of inspection, or printed close to a use-by, inspection stamp, or price tag. ProPublica has created a searchable database which shows all the records for salmonella in the country’s poultry plants. Enter in the P-number on your package, and you can see the salmonella rate where the poultry came from.
If you find your bird came from a place with instances of high-risk salmonella, that doesn’t mean you ought to throw it away. This just means that you need to be more careful with how you prepare your bird.
As a side note, we are not finished reporting on salmonella in poultry. Please fill out the Chicken Checker form to provide your bird’s P number and the place you purchased it. This will help us report on the poultry supply chain.
Do Not Rinse Your Turkey.
We see this all the time. This is how you unwrap your turkey, then put it under water. I get it. It’s a slimy food, and your parents taught you how to clean it. But if there’s salmonella on your turkey, rinsing is a great way to splash the bacteria onto other surfaces in your kitchen, where you’ll least expect it, the USDA says. Cross-contamination is what you call it. It is important to eliminate it.
Britanny Saunier, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, told me that rinsing poultry is a habit that has been passed down from a time when the birds came from your own yard or a local farm and cleaning literal dirt off them was in order. However, it is not necessary to rinse out a cooked bird.
Wash Your Hands Again and Again and Again (With Soap)!
Remember how in March 2020 everyone was relearning how to wash their hands for the full CDC-recommended 20 seconds and nervously joking about how touching your face will kill you? You can carry this spirit with you to the holiday. Before you start cooking, wash your hands. Wash your hands again after each step. You should wash your hands after touching any raw meat or other food in the kitchen.
Some people prefer to get gloves. It can be frustrating to have to take gloves off and on all the time to avoid cross-contamination. You can be most vigilant and keep your kitchen clean.
Actually, Just Wash Everything (With Soap)!!
Salmonella bacteria are resilient little germs. They can survive hours to days on surfaces and cannot be killed by drying or freezing, according to the FDA. Wash your hands immediately after touching raw turkey. Let’s suppose you forget to wash your hands and grab something from the fridge. It is worth cleaning the handle of your fridge. The faucet that you used to wash your hand. Have you ever prepared your turkey on the countertop? That should be cleaned. Use a cutting board? You can also clean it. Do you have a recipe stored on your phone? This is how you get the idea.
Keep Your Raw Turkey Separate From Everything Else.
Don’t use the same cutting boards for preparing raw turkey and vegetables without a thorough cleaning in between. Avoid exposing raw poultry to food and surfaces. For example, don’t put cooked meats on the exact same plate that they were served raw.
Get a Meat Thermometer (or Several).
Salmonella — even the most dangerous strains — perishes at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and a meat thermometer is the only surefire way to tell if your poultry has reached that temperature. The USDA recommends putting the device in the deepest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing. White meat cooks faster than dark, so those three parts will all hit 165 degrees at different times during the cooking process, but they all do need to reach 165 before you should eat your bird.
Some people like their turkeys cooked hotter than 165 (especially the breasts, which are tougher). It’s up to you. ProPublica doesn’t care how hot your bird is, as long as every millimeter of it is hotter than 165.
There’s really no good way to eyeball whether your turkey is cooked well enough to have killed the salmonella. You don’t need to buy a thermometer. It can be used as a gift or as a reminder for the host.
Be Very Careful With Stuffing and Marinades.
Stuffing can have its own salmonella from ingredients like raw eggs, and it can get contaminated from the bird itself if you stuff it. This can also cause uneven cooking of your turkey. It is safer and more convenient to prepare your stuffing separately. If you insist on having your stuffing cook inside your bird, make sure to use your meat thermometer to check its temperature, too — again, 165 is the salmonella-killing temperature — and follow the USDA’s advice on preparing it.
Marinating, brining and basting your bird are all great strategies for getting the most flavor out of your poultry. The USDA says that a turkey can marinate for up to two days in the fridge before becoming unsafe to eat. If you don’t boil your marinade first, please do not use it again. It has been sitting with raw turkey for hours.
Making sure there’s no cross-contamination in your kitchen and cooking your turkey through to at least 165 degrees is a good way to avoid any Thanksgiving salmonella mishaps, so you can focus on the important things like whether the turkey tastes good, fighting with your family (if that’s your thing), parades and football.