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Don't Let Your Turkey Put You in the Hospital

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Before you pick up that Thanksgiving turkey at your local market this week, you may be interested in knowing there’s a deadly illness connected to turkeys that’s been going on for at least a year. So far it’s caused 164 illnesses and one death, but if you’re counting on federal officials to let you know which 22 turkey slaughter operations and seven processors are putting out Salmonella-contaminated turkeys, forget it.

You see, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) don’t think you need to know. Instead, they’re putting out press releases instructing people how to handle raw turkey, while they plod along, still trying to figure out which stores sold the turkeys, rather than letting you know where the stores got them.

These public agencies’ lack of transparency has angered consumer groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Consumer Reports, who say consumers deserve to know which facilities these turkeys are coming from, so they can avoid them, Food Safety News said. But no matter, USDA is protecting the purveyors of the contaminated products and letting you, the consumer, shoulder the burden of prevention.

Salmonella is a serious illness that shouldn’t be lightly taken and, like the consumer groups mentioned, I’m outraged that the very agencies charged with protecting us are more interested in shielding the turkey processors. The truth is poultry is a reservoir for salmonella. Usually you hear about it in connection with chicken, because chicken is something people buy every day, as opposed to that once-a-year turkey.

What’s especially disturbing is that, while these very health agencies make a big stink about unsterilized foods such as raw organic milk, the food associated with the greatest number of foodborne illnesses — raw poultry — continues to get a pass.

Granted, knowing how to handle raw meat of any kind is a No. 1 caveat when you’re in the kitchen. But still, how can these agencies in good conscience let something like this go into a second year without revealing WHERE those turkeys are coming from? If nothing else, where are the news agencies that should be demanding this information, with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests?

Since it’s apparent we’re not going to find out what we need to know any time soon, here are some hints on how to choose and handle raw meat products:

  • If you buy meat in the grocery store, become a savvy label reader. Topping the EWG's list of "most reliable" meat labels is the American Grassfed Association's grass fed label. Labels to be wary of include "no antibiotic residues," "antibiotic free," "no antibiotic growth promotants" and "natural," as none fully reveal a company's use of antibiotics.
  • Store meats away from fresh produce, thaw in the fridge rather than on the counter and avoid washing meats as this merely spreads bacteria around your sink and kitchen. Always cook meats thoroughly.
  • Avoid buying raw chicken as the risk of it spreading dangerous bacteria around your kitchen and cross-contaminating other foods is extremely high.
  • When eating out, ask if the meat was raised with antibiotics. Beef would probably be a safer bet than chicken, even if it's not grass fed, just for the fact that chicken is so prone to so many different kinds of bacterial contamination, including foodborne pathogens and drug-resistant ones.

In the kitchen, use a designated cutting board, preferably wood, not plastic, for raw meat and poultry, and never use this board for other food preparation, such as cutting up vegetables.

To sanitize your cutting board, use hot water and detergent. Simply wiping it off with a rag will not destroy the bacteria.

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