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Testing Shows Safer Turkeys This Year, But USDA Should Stop Giving Turkey Industry 'Holiday' From Bacteria Testing

The CSPI, (Center for Science in the Public Interest) a consumer group that often does studies on food, randomly tested 50 turkeys for bacteria that can cause people to get sick, and found turkeys are much safer in 2001 than in 2000. What about this year?

 

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CSPI Tests Find 28% of Fresh Turkeys Contaminated

Summary: 

All the turkeys were tested for campylobacter and salmonella, two common bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses with symptoms ranging from headache and fever to nausea and diarrhea. None of the turkeys tested positive for salmonella; 28 percent of fresh turkeys and 4 percent of frozen turkeys had campylobacter. Last year, 90 percent of the turkeys CPSI tested had campylobacter and 18 percent had salmonella.

The whole story

WASHINGTON - At a news conference today, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to immediately begin testing turkeys for the illness-causing bacteria Campylobacter. The urgent recommendation was based on the laboratory results of a new study of turkeys tested for harmful bacteria. It is estimated that Campylobacter causes 47% of all food poisonings each year. Currently, the USDA is required only to test turkeys for Salmonella, another harmful bacteria.

   In the new CSPI study, laboratory tests were conducted to determine bacteria levels on fresh and frozen turkeys from five cities. The turkeys were purchased at local grocery stores in Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale.

   "Last year USDA released data on turkey contamination that showed 90% of the turkeys tested in 1996 and 1997 were contaminated with Campylobacter and 18% were contaminated with Salmonella," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of Food Safety for CSPI. "This year, CSPI hoped to document positive changes in turkey safety due to the new mandatory hazard control systems (called HACCP) now used in most turkey plants. Instead, what we found was shocking."

   "Although USDA has evidence showing that many chicken, pork, and ground beef plants have dramatically improved their performance under HACCP, essentially slicing their Salmonella contamination rates in half or better, they have no data about how turkey slaughter plants are performing. In fact, the agency isn't even running the required Salmonella tests in turkey slaughter plants. The reason? Nearly two years after the government mandated 'Pathogen Reduction and HACCP's program was started, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is tied up in knots with bureaucratic red tape," continued DeWaal. "The bottom line - the USDA should stop giving the turkey industry a holiday from Salmonella testing." ehso blue lightbar

Results

Tests conducted by CSPI on 50 turkeys from five cities found:
  • A total of 16% of all turkeys tested were contaminated with Campylobacter. bulletFresh turkeys in the sample were significantly more likely than the frozen turkeys to be contaminated. bulletTurkeys from Los Angeles were more contaminated than turkeys from Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, and Miami. bulletNone of the turkeys tested were contaminated with Salmonella.

   "CSPI's bacteria testing on turkeys shows that some consumers are at risk for illness from Campylobacter contamination. Our findings indicate that USDA needs to add Campylobacter to their turkey testing regimen."

   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 77 million people are sickened each year by food poisoning. Of those people who become sick, 5,000 die. Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of foodborne diarrhea and current data suggests that more cases of foodborne diarrhea are linked to poultry than to any other foods.

   "Our turkey tests also revealed some good news. None of the 50 turkeys we tested were contaminated with the Salmonella, which causes 32% of all food poisonings each year," said DeWaal. "But optimism shouldn't give way to sloppy practices in the kitchen. Whenever serving older grandparents or young children always use safe-food preparation practices." ehso blue lightbar

What to do?

   "Consumers can improve their odds of avoiding food poisoning by washing their hands frequently, using safe food-handling practices such as washing preparation counters thoroughly with hot soapy water before and after handling their turkey, and by cooking the turkey to 180," concluded DeWaal.

USDA materials say that campylobacter is estimated to be the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea disease in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that this illness affects more than 4 million people each year. Salmonella bacteria are most commonly found in raw or undercooked foods. It is the most commonly reported cause of foodborne illness.

Cooking foods to the proper temperature will kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness

 

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. It is well known for advocating improved food-inspection programs and safer food additives. CSPI is supported largely by the nearly one million U.S. and Canadian subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter.


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