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Protect Yourself From Salmonella this Thanksgiving

Protect Yourself From Salmonella this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is today, and I regret to inform you that there’s a multidrug-resistant salmonella outbreak running rampant in the nation’s poultry industry.

I know that’s daunting, but something to be thankful for this year is the ProPublica reporters who spent the past several months uncovering that the outbreak never abated and looking into how fragmented food safety rules left the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration ill-equipped to stop it. I know I am.

I don’t bring up salmonella to scare you (most of the ProPublica reporters who ate poultry before working on this story still eat poultry) but to prepare you. While the food regulatory system has failed to stop the rise of infantis, a salmonella strain that doctors find difficult to treat, there are a lot of steps you can take to protect yourself.

For what it’s worth, salmonella tends to be found way more frequently in chicken than whole turkey, and the tips below apply to both birds (as well as just about any other) you wish to eat.

Check your turkey using ProPublica’s chicken checker.

Your turkey’s packaging should come with a P-number. Usually, it’s found on the USDA’s mark of inspection or printed near a use-by date, inspection stamp or price tag. ProPublica created a searchable database that shows the salmonella records of the nation’s poultry plants. Enter in the P-number on your package, and you can see the salmonella rate where the poultry came from.

If you find your bird came from a place with instances of high-risk salmonella, that doesn’t mean you ought to throw it away. It just means you should be extra careful when you prepare it.

As a side note, we are not finished reporting on salmonella in poultry. If you’d like to help, please fill out the form below the Chicken Checker to share your bird’s P-number and where you bought it. That’ll help our reporting on the poultry supply chain.

Do not rinse your turkey.

We see this all the time. You unwrap your turkey and put the whole thing under water. I get it. Poultry is slimy, and your elders taught you to do this. But if there’s salmonella on your turkey, rinsing is a great way to splash the bacteria onto other surfaces in your kitchen, where you’ll least expect it, the USDA says. That’s called cross-contamination. Eliminating it, you’ll find, is a theme here.

Britanny Saunier, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, told me that rinsing poultry is a habit that has been passed down from a time when the birds came from your own yard or a local farm and cleaning literal dirt off them was in order. There’s no need to rinse a processed bird, though.

Wash your hands again and again and again (with soap)!

Remember how in March 2020 everyone was relearning how to wash their hands for the full CDC-recommended 20 seconds and nervously joking about how touching your face will kill you? Now carry that spirit into the holiday. Before you start cooking, wash your hands. Then wash them again, maybe after every step. Most importantly, you should always wash your hands in between touching raw meat and anything else in your kitchen.

Some people prefer to get gloves. I find that to be annoying because you have to keep taking them on and off to prevent cross-contamination. But whatever keeps you most vigilant and your kitchen cleanest is the way to go.

Actually, just wash everything (with soap)!!

Salmonella bacteria are resilient little germs. They can survive hours to days on surfaces and cannot be killed by drying or freezing, according to the FDA. If you touch raw turkey, wash your hands immediately after. But let’s say you forget and go get something out of your fridge. It’s probably worth disinfecting the fridge handle now. And the faucet you used to wash your hands. Did you prep your turkey on the counter? Clean that. Use a cutting board? Clean that, too. Check a recipe on your phone? You get the idea.

Keep your raw turkey separate from everything else.

Don’t use the same cutting boards for preparing raw turkey and vegetables without a thorough cleaning in between. As much as possible, minimize the surfaces and other food that raw poultry comes into contact with. Don’t, for example, put cooked meats on the same plate they sat on raw.

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