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AbledHealth Post Banner shows a background photo of an industrial poultry shed with thousands of broiler chickens crowded together. In the foreground are two screengrabs - one of the ConsumerReports.org website showing their story The High Costs of Cheap Chicken with a photo of a package of raw chicken breasts with yellow tape wrapped around it and the word caution printed twice. The other is the cover of the PEW Report on the Weaknesses in the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service's Salmonella Regulation. It features a photo of packages of poultry products in a grocery store display. The headline reads: Salmonella Poisoning: Two reports slam poultry safety - One finds 97 per cent infection rate.

US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service Is Failing To Protect The Public

 

Two new reports shine a scathing spotlight on serious failures in protecting the U.S. public from food contamination. Consumer Reports and The Pew Charitable Trusts have exposed serious shortcomings in regulating, monitoring and controlling contamination in poultry products.

 

The reports were prompted by two multi-state outbreaks of the so-called Heidelberg strain of salmonella infections that, since June 2012, have sickened at least 523 people in 29 states and Puerto Rico and put 40 percent of them in the hospital, as covered in our AbledALERT report on the outbreaks.

 

The outbreaks were linked to chicken produced by Foster Farms, the sixth largest poultry producer in the United States. Based on these figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they estimate these outbreaks may have sickened as many as 15,000 people across the country because of the under-diagnosis of salmonella.

 

Consumer Reports Magazine exposed even more shocking facts: 97% of the 300 raw chicken breasts they tested that were purchased at stores across the country tested positive for bacterial infection. More than half of them contained fecal contaminants, while about 50% harbored at least one bacterium that was resistant to three or more commonly prescribed antibiotics.

 

 

Antibiotic-­resistant infections are linked to at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and more than 48 million people fall sick each year from eating contaminated food. According to an analysis of outbreaks from 1998 through 2008 by the CDC, more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity.

 

What to do about the problem?

 

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Health Initiatives division found significant weaknesses in existing federal regulations and policies aimed at controlling salmonella contamination in poultry products. As their report points out, “

Current limits on salmonella contamination for chicken, known as performance standards, and related policies do not adequately protect public health.

 

  • As opposed to other pathogens such as Ecoli O157:H7, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does not consider salmonella to be an adulterant in raw poultry, but treats it as an indicator organism used to determine whether a company is producing safe food based on the level of salmonella found.
  • Performance standards, which are not updated regularly, are based on the national prevalence of the pathogen in a specific product instead of public health impact.
  • There are no salmonella performance standards for chicken parts, which are purchased more widely than whole chickens.
  • As part of prevention-based safety requirements, poultry plants are not required to treat the presence of salmonella as a “hazard likely to occur”, or a significant risk that needs to be controlled during processing and production.
  • There are no requirements for farm-level control measures that would help reduce salmonella contamination in chickens before they arrive at slaughter facilities.

 

Among the recommendations from the Pew Charitable Trusts report:

 

  • Issue performance standards for chicken parts.
  • Conduct unannounced salmonella testing.
  • Consider establishing limits on salmonella contamination for chickens when they enter into the slaughterhouse, which may require legislation.
  • Communicate outbreaks to consumers via public health alerts as early as possible when there is sufficient epidemiological evidence linking illnesses to a company’s product, even if there is not a definitive link between specific products and patients.
  • Close facilities under investigation for failing to produce safe food, and keep them closed until adequate control measures are in place.
  • Be given mandatory recall authority.

 

As the Pew report was being finalized in December 2013, FSIS released a salmonella action plan highlighting the steps the agency is taking to better control the pathogen in meat and poultry.

 

In official speak, “The FSIS Administrator established the Strategic Performance Working Group (SPWG) to perform recurring critical reviews of the information and data will allow the agency to identify deficiencies and successes that warrant particular attention.”

 

Much of the action plan calls for reviewing and evaluating the growing amount of so-called ‘performance ‘ information and data available to establish new strategies and rules for poultry ‘pre-harvest’ and slaughter practices, inspections, sampling, and enforcement.

 

Some new information that comes out of the action plan as a result of reviewing agency data is contained in one of the footnotes: “Outbreak data indicate that pork products contribute to Salmonella illnesses. FSIS stopped sampling pork carcasses because the percent of pork carcass samples positive for Salmonella was consistently very low. Pork products are not currently sampled for Salmonella testing.”

 

Another piece of information emerging from the data is that “research results from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), indicate that lymph nodes could be a source of Salmonella contamination.”

 

What’s curious is that it appears ARS is just clueing into this fact, despite relevant data from 65 years ago showing the possible connection.

 

A paper published in 1948 by Utrecht’s Rijksinstituut voor de Volksgezondheid (National Institute for Public Health) in the Netherlands documents cases of Salmonella being reported in the mesenteric lymph nodes of health pigs in countries such as the United States, England, Uruguay and other parts of South America, as well as Mexico.

 

In fact, the paper shows that the Heidelberg strain of Salmonella that’s been leaving people sick across the U.S. since the summer of 2012, was only showing up in Mexico in 1948.

 

The Dutch study examined 503 slaughtered pigs that did not have any reports of health problems, and found that 14 out of the 503 pics (2.78%) showed the presence of Salmonella in the mesenteric lymph nodes. There was no trace of the bacteria in the feces of the animals, with the report saying such a result doesn’t preclude an infection of the lymph nodes from the intestinal tract.

 

How to keep safe when preparing poultry

 

With the Christmas holiday feasts approaching, how can you limit your chances of salmonella contamination if you’re roasting a turkey or chicken?

 

The USDA outlines the following advice:

 

Fresh or Frozen?

Fresh Turkeys

  • Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
  • Buy your turkey only 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook it.
  • Keep it stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook it. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.
  • Do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, any harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly.

 

Frozen Turkeys

  • Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
  • Keep frozen until you’re ready to thaw it.
  • Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer indefinitely; however, cook within 1 year for best quality.
  • See “Thawing Your Turkey” for thawing instructions.

 

Frozen Pre-Stuffed Turkeys

USDA recommends only buying frozen pre-stuffed turkeys that display the USDA or State mark of inspection on the packaging. These turkeys are safe because they have been processed under controlled conditions.

Image of seal of inspection for poultryDO NOT THAW before cooking. Cook from the frozen state. Follow package directions for proper handling and cooking.

Allow 1¼ pounds of turkey per person.

Thawing Your Turkey

There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely — in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven.

In the Refrigerator (40 °F or below)
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days


Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen.

In Cold Water
Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours


Wrap your turkey securely, making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

In the Microwave Oven

  • Check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing.
  • Remove all outside wrapping.
  • Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.
  • Cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate your turkey after thawing in the microwave oven.

REMINDER: Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook separately.

Roasting Your Turkey

  • Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.

  • Place your turkey or turkey breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

  • For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F  (73.8 °C ).

  • If you choose to stuff your turkey, the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time; however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.

  • A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F  (73.8 °C ) as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.

  • If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. The minimum internal temperature should reach 165 °F  (73.8 °C ) for safety.

  • For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.

  • Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.


Timetables for Turkey Roasting
(325 °F oven temperature)

Use the timetables below to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing.

Unstuffed
4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours

 

Stuffed
4 to 6 pounds (breast) Not usually applicable
6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours


It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.

Optional Cooking Hints

  • Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking. This is referred to as “akimbo.”

  • Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the pan.

  • If your roasting pan does not have a lid, you may place a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first 1 to 1 ½ hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter. To prevent over-browning, foil may also be placed over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.

  • If using an oven-proof food thermometer, place it in the turkey at the start of the cooking cycle. It will allow you to check the internal temperature of the turkey while it is cooking. For turkey breasts, place thermometer in the thickest part. For whole turkeys, place in the thickest part of the inner thigh. Once the thigh has reached 165 °F  (73.8 °C ), check the wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure the turkey has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F  (73.8 °C ) throughout the product.

  • If using an oven cooking bag, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the package.

REMEMBER! Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.

For information on other methods for cooking a turkey, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
www.fsis.usda.gov

Storing Your Leftovers

  • Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F (32.2 °C).
  • Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
  • Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days.
  • If freezing leftovers, use within 2 to 6 months for best quality.

 

 

 

AbledFood Turkey Tip

 

A member of our Editorial staff had great success by cooking a 13.5 lbs (6.1 kg.) fresh turkey at 400°F (204 °C) and it was perfectly browned and very juicy and tender in 3 hours.

 

When preparing, spray with olive oil and over with foil.  Remove the foil for the last half hour or so – but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

 

Pour a cup of water in the bottom of the roasting pan to keep it from drying out, and to blend with the juices for gravy; replenish as needed.

 

Make sure the meat thermometer reads 165 °F  (73.8 °C ) – your cooking time may be more or less depending on your type of oven. Then, enjoy!

 

 

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