With Thanksgiving around the corner, public health officials are encouraging people to protect themselves from foodborne illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates approximately 48 million people get sick every year from foodborne illnesses — caused by food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins. Officials say an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths occur as a result.
Already this year, as of Nov. 5, 164 people have been infected across 35 states with a strain of salmonella linked to raw turkey products. According to the CDC, 63 people have been hospitalized, and one death was reported in California.
And with more than 46 million turkeys expected to grace tables this Thursday, public health officials have released guidelines for proper poultry preparation, as well as the safest way to cook other meat and egg products to avoid illness.
“There’s always potential for bacteria like salmonella, but if you’re handling preparation properly, that will keep family members safe,” said Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa Department of Public Health medical director and state epidemiologist.
The state public health department investigates foodborne outbreaks linked to large family gatherings each year, and food handling errors and inadequate cooking are the most common problems that lead to these poultry-related illnesses, according to a news release from the department.
According to the CDC, these are the proper steps to take when cooking a Thanksgiving meal:
• Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes or in the microwave.
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• Never thaw a turkey by leaving it on the counter. Bacteria can grow rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees.
• Wash your hands before and after preparing or eating food.
• Wash hands, counters, cutting boards and utensils with warm, soapy water after they touch raw turkey, and use separate utensils for raw turkey and other meat when preparing a meal.
• Turkey must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Leftovers should also be reheated to 165 degrees.
• Do not feed raw turkey to pets. Salmonella germs can sicken animals, and people can become sick by handling raw meat.
For more information, and other safe food practices, visit the CDC’s webpage on safety tips for holiday turkey at cdc.gov/features/TurkeyTime.
Foodborne illnesses related to raw meat aren’t the only concern. The CDC on Tuesday told consumers to avoid all romaine lettuce — no matter where or when the lettuce was grown — in response to a new outbreak of illnesses caused by a particularly dangerous type of E. coli contamination. The CDC reported that 32 people in 11 states — but none in Iowa — have become sick from eating contaminated romaine.
To report foodborne illnesses linked to a gathering or restaurant, call the Iowa Department of Public Health hotline at 1-844-469-2742.
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