Unidentified Salmonella Outbreak Raises Concern About Holiday Turkeys

A Salmonella illness outbreak in turkey is still widespread as the holiday season approaches and no common source has yet been identified.

As of November 5th, the Salmonella outbreak, which started a year ago, has spread to 35 states, sickened 164 people, and sent 63 people to the hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials in several states are investigating and are still trying to identify the source of the multistate outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella infections linked to raw turkey products.

The states with the largest number of cases are Minnesota (17), Illinois (16), California (13), New York (12) and Texas (11). Source: CDC – People infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading, by state of residence, as of November 5, 2018.

Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicates that raw turkey products from a variety of sources are contaminated with Salmonella and no common supplier has yet been identified, according to officials at the Agriculture Department and the CDC.

Turkey Recalls

There have already been two recalls of turkey products:

  • One in February involved raw ground turkey pet food.
  • On November 15, 2018, Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales, LLC, in Barron, Wisconsin recalled approximately 91,388 pounds of raw ground turkey products. The recalled ground turkey was sold in one-pound packages labeled with establishment number “P-190”. This is found inside the USDA mark of inspection.


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Symptoms of Salmonella Infection

Salmonella causes more than 1 million illnesses every year, and food is the main source:

  • Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria.
  • The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
  • In some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body.
  • In rare cases, Salmonella infection can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
  • Children younger than 5 years of age, adults older than 65 years of age, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe food illness.
  • For more information, see the CDC Salmonella webpage.

CDC Turkey Safety Advice

With the exception of the recalled Jennie-O brand ground turkey products, CDC is not advising that consumers avoid eating properly cooked turkey products, or that retailers stop selling raw turkey products.

CDC advises consumers to follow these steps to help prevent Salmonella infection from raw turkey:

  • Always handle raw turkey carefully and cook it thoroughly to prevent food poisoning. This outbreak is a reminder that raw turkey products can have germs that spread around food preparation areas and can make you sick.
  • Wash your hands. Salmonella infections can spread from one person to another. Wash hands before and after handling raw turkey products.
  • Cook raw turkey thoroughly to kill harmful germs. Turkey breasts, whole turkeys, and ground poultry, including turkey burgers, casseroles, and sausage, should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill harmful germs. Leftovers should be reheated to 165°F. Use a food thermometer to check, and place it in the thickest part of the food.
  • Don’t spread germs from raw turkey around food preparation areas. Washing raw poultry before cooking is not recommended. Germs in raw poultry juices can spread to other areas and foods. Thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils with warm, soapy water after they touch raw turkey. Use a separate cutting board for raw turkey and other raw meats if possible.
  • CDC does not recommend feeding raw diets to pets. Germs like Salmonella in raw pet food can make your pets sick. Your family also can get sick by handling the raw food or by taking care of your pet.
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Don’t Wash the Raw Turkey

According to a food-safety survey conducted by the FDA, 68% of people wash a whole turkey before cooking it. However,  the USDA does not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking because it can spread bacteria up to 3 feet around the sink.

Cooking meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary.

Safely Thawing a Turkey

A frozen turkey is safe indefinitely, but a thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe as it moves into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.

Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature, so don’t thaw foods on the counter!

The easiest way to get that frozen bird thawed is in the refrigerator. It will defrost at a rate of about four pounds per day, so the average 16-pound turkey could take at least four days to completely thaw! If you fail to give your turkey enough time to thaw, it will cook on the outside, but the inside will be super raw.

Check out all the ways to thaw a turkey below in the infographic:

Cooking the Turkey to a Safe Temperature (165°F)

To make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F.  Check the temperature by inserting a food thermometer into:

  1. the thickest part of the breast;
  2. the innermost part of the wing; and
  3. the innermost part of the thigh.

Note: Turkey pop-up timers only check the internal temperature in one area and are not recommended.

Turkey Stuffing – Cook Separate

Is it safe to cook the stuffing inside a turkey?
The USDA recommends that the entire turkey is cooked to 165 °F – including the stuffing! If the stuffing doesn’t reach 165 °F, the bacteria won’t be killed off and could cause foodborne illness. Cooking stuffing inside the turkey to 165 °F often means overcooking the bird – so it’s best to cook the stuffing separate.

Refrigerate Leftovers Within 2 hours

One of the critical factors in controlling bacteria in food is controlling temperature. Bacteria grows very slowly at temperatures below 40°F, multiply rapidly between 40°F and 140°F, and are destroyed at temperatures above 140°F.

Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it within 2 hours of the turkey coming out of the oven.

Leftovers will last for 4 days in the refrigerator, so if you know you won’t use them right away, pack them into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze. For best quality, use your leftover frozen turkey within four months.


Turkey Food Safety Infographics