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The End of Turkey Terror
After salmonella linked to ground turkey became a stealth health threat earlier this month, sickening 107 people in 31 states, we've been unable to bring ourselves to grill up one of our favorite summer dinners: turkey burgers. But there are fears....and then there's reality. Here's what you can do right now to protect yourself, enjoy dinner and put an end to hysterical turkey terror:
1. Go check your freezer right now. On August 3, the Arkansas-based food producer Cargill recalled 35 million pounds of turkey that could be tainted with a rare form of salmonella Heidelberg. Turkey can last in the freezer for up to four months, so there's a chance that some of the recalled meat (with "sell by" or "freeze by" dates from February to late August) may be lurking in your home. The USDA web site lists all of the products that you should be looking for, with their identifying names and markings.
2. Look for USDA certified organic turkey products, which are antibiotic-free. You may already know that it's common practice to give antibiotics to farmed animals that are sold for their meat to prevent disease from spreading. But there's another, less-commonly discussed reason for their widespread use: to get turkeys to grow bigger, faster. Either way, dosing healthy animals can lead to the formation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria – like the dangerous strain of salmonella Heidelberg that's causing the current scare.
3. Pop freshly-bought meat and poultry into the fridge within two hours (one hour if the temps outside are above 90 degrees). After cooking, refrigerate again within two hours.
4. Quarantine your bird. Follow these USDA guidelines in storing and cooking turkey. You don't need to wash ground turkey, but you should keep your meat and poultry separate from uncooked food (especially produce) when you're shopping, chopping, storing, preparing and mixing. Don't let juices from raw meat drip onto other food or cooking surfaces.
5. Clean it up. After touching raw meat, wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least twenty seconds. For cutting boards, dishes and utensils, we like to use boiling hot water as a pre-dishwashing rinse.
6. Cook it thoroughly. You may want to use a meat thermometer to ensure that you're cooking ground turkey and chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, And don't forget to let cooked meat rest for a little while, because it's not just the heat, but the time the meat remains at that temperature that kills germs.
The bottom line: keep in mind that high-quality ground turkey contains half the saturated fat of 85 percent lean ground beef, making it a healthy substitution in pasta dishes, chili and soup. As long you take proper precautions, there's no need to go—sorry! can't help it!—cold turkey on the bird.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.