Many Moms Commit the Two Most Common Causes of Food Poisoning on Thanksgiving

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), last year an estimated 1 in every 6 Americans—approximately 48 million people—became sick from food poisoning with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 deaths. While the actual number of food poisoning cases directly attributable to the Thanksgiving holiday is unknown, many health authorities agree that Thanksgiving provides more than the lion’s share of food poisoning illness cases.

What is known, however, is that cross contamination during food preparation—especially when handling poultry—is the biggest contributor to food poisoning in the home. Furthermore, according to Doug Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University, your mother or grandmother may be guilty of committing at least one of the two most common causes of Thanksgiving food poisoning—washing the bird before roasting. Washing poultry is a messy practice that is a major source of cross contamination.

Cross contamination is the unintentional transfer of harmful microorganisms from raw meats that remain on the meat and on and within the packaging of the meat, following processing at a meat packing facility. Of particular concern is cross contamination of the most common foodborne bacteria: Campylobacter, which is responsible for the type of food poisoning known as “campylobacteriosis.”

The campylobacter is ubiquitous and resides in the intestinal tract of the majority of all birds regardless of where your turkey was farmed before butchering. Upon butchering, the intestines are often perforated leading to waste contaminating the carcass before it is frozen for delivery to the grocery store.

While past and current recommendations online and in the news include washing the carcass or soaking it in a tepid bath to thaw, doing so according to food safety experts greatly increases the chances that you will splash and spread the contaminating bacteria to surfaces throughout the kitchen and onto other foods.

Professor Powell recommends that the cook foregoes the washing step and let proper cooking temperatures and time take care of the bacteria on the turkey using a good quality roasting thermometer to let you know when the bird has been safely roasted for eating.

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He points out that a second mistake cooks often make is relying on the color of the juices that runs from a pricked turkey as an indication that the turkey has cooked long enough.

"Color is a lousy indicator of safety," Powell said. "No matter how you cook your bird, the key is to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to verify safety."

For information on good kitchen practices to prevent cross contamination of bacteria from raw meat during meal preparation, America’s Test Kitchen provides a free instructional video titled “How to Prevent Cross-Contamination in Your Kitchen.”

For an informative article about how to protect your pet from food poisoning while preparing your Thanksgiving meal, follow this link to an article titled "Tainted Human Food Makes Dogs Sick."

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

References:

Kansas State University news release

CDC Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the U.S.

America’s Test Kitchen

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