This is why raw turkey could become a holiday nightmare

By: Craig Lucie

Updated:

Raw poultry has a reputation for carrying bacteria that can make humans sick. Channel 2’s Craig Lucie spoke with experts about new research that gives us some insight why.  

“I, for one, have actually had salmonella poisoning in the past. It is not something that you would ever want to repeat. It’s just a nasty bug and it can make you very sick,” said Mary Moore, founder and CEO of the Cook’s Warehouse. 

She’s proof even culinary experts are not safe from salmonella.

Salmonella bacteria has been plaguing American stomachs for decades, and a number of poultry recalls and outbreaks in the last few years have made the bacteria something to fear. 

Salmonella bacteria
CDC

Recent outbreaks were the inspiration for a study presented by UGA researchers to the American Association of Avian Pathologists. 

Researchers contaminated turkey with Salmonella Heidelberg strains, then tested them weeks later for signs of the bacteria. They found turkey breast meat was salmonella-free, but one-third of the skin samples tested positive for the bacteria. 

It revealed the unusual way ground turkey is contaminated with the salmonella bacteria.

“Turkey’s very lean so you want a little bit of the fat in there so they use a little bit of the skin in there,” Moore said. 

She explained that salmonella-prone turkey skin is mixed into ground turkey meat for flavor.  

“There’s probably about 1 million cases of salmonella in the United States each year,” said Louise Francois Watkins, a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control’s Epidemic Diseases Epidemiology branch.


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She deals with a lot of food borne outbreaks, and said undercooked turkey and holiday gatherings can be an invitation for food born illnesses like salmonella.

 “Those all pose opportunities for outbreaks of food poisoning to occur and to affect large groups of people,” Watkins said. 

Undercooked turkey at holiday gatherings can be an invitation for food born illnesses like salmonella.
WSB-TV

Although salmonella has made headlines, Watkins said other diseases with food poisoning type symptoms, like norovirus, peak in winter months.

According to the CDC, Georgia had 28 foodborne outbreaks last year. 

Dr. Erika Martinez-Uribe, with Piedmont Hospital, said the infection from salmonella bacteria can cause more than an upset stomach. For a vulnerable piece of our population -- children, elderly and amino compromised like those with HIV and cancer -- can find themselves in serious shape if they find salmonella in their food. 

“It can invade their systems like their blood stream. It can also create abscesses and present in a wide range of illnesses,” Martinez-Uribe said. 

Regardless of what makes poultry susceptible to salmonella the bacteria, experts said cleaning surfaces to prevent cross contamination from cooking and cooking poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit will prevent the spread of salmonella. Experts also recommend visiting foodsafety.gov for more tips.

For the majority of unlucky eaters who unknowingly find salmonella on their plate, Martinez-Uribe said the illness will be inconvenient, but not life-threatening.  

“Most of us will get a very transient diarrheal illness for a short period of time that lasts a couple of days and our own body will clear it and it will be fine,” Martinez-Uribe said. 

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