Thanksgiving Chefs Beware: Cooking the Turkey May Not Prevent Food Poisoning

Released: 11/6/2008 10:45 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Texas Tech University
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Newswise — Sure, cooking the Thanksgiving turkey to 165 degrees is an effective way to kill off harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli.

However, it may not be enough to keep a food poisoning outbreak from crashing holiday festivities, warned Texas Tech University food safety expert Mindy Brashears.

See, the problem is, most turkeys carry a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens " a common cause of food poisoning, said Brashears, director of Texas Tech's International Center for Food Industry Excellence.

While cooking turkey to 165 degrees will kill the living C. perfringens, Brashears warned their spores will survive a trip through the oven. And while those spores aren't harmful if eaten, they will return to their vegetative state if warm turkey meat is left too long.

"Even if your turkey is cooked well, you could run into problems if you leave it sitting out all day," Brashears said.

The same is true of stuffing cooked inside a turkey or gravy that has turkey meat in it.

Brashears recommends chilling leftovers quickly after a meal is finished. Cut meat off the bone and store perishables in shallow pans " any deeper than four inches will keep the food from cooling fast enough " to prevent the reemergence of bacteria.

Brashears also advises reheating leftover turkey to 165 degrees and bringing gravy to a boil.

"You want to avoid keeping food in what I call the temperature danger zone," she said. "Either keep it cold or keep it hot."

Here are a few other tips Brashears offers hosts and hostesses to make sure household stomach pains are caused by the football scores and not the leftovers:

"¢ Don't cross-contaminate
Some of the biggest health threats in the kitchen are also among the most ubiquitous: sponges, rags, cutting boards and the counter. Wipe down counters and utensils but keep in mind: sponges and dishrags work great for cleaning "¦ unless they're covered in germs. Otherwise, they are just another instrument for spreading illness.

So toss the dirty ones in the dishwasher or laundry pile once they've been used to wipe up after raw meat. Also, be sure to wash surfaces including counters and cutting boards with soap or sanitizers before preparing foods you plan to serve without cooking.

"¢ Put cookie dough and eggnog out to Pasteur
As any kid will attest, licking from the bowl is half the fun of making cookies. Yet the cookie dough on your finger could be brimming with bacteria; same with the eggnog in your cup. While dough and eggnog bought ready-made at the store should be safe, Brashears said shoppers should be sure to purchase pasteurized eggs to use in their homemade recipes.


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