Nobody likes dealing with an unwelcome guest at the Thanksgiving table, especially when that guest is a diarrhea-causing germ lurking in your meal.

In what may seem like the most 2018 turn of events ever, America is in the midst of a multidrug-resistant salmonella outbreak linked to raw turkey products during the one time of year when almost everyone is cooking turkey. The outbreak has sickened 164 people in 35 states so far, leading to 63 hospitalizations and one death in California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The outbreak strain of salmonella has been identified in raw turkey products, raw turkey pet food, and live turkeys. People who have gotten sick have reported eating various turkey products (i.e. whole birds, breasts, patties) sold under different brands and purchased from multiple locations — so no single source or supplier has been identified.

Last Week, Wisconsin turkey supplier Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales recalled 91,388 pounds of raw ground turkey products due to possible contamination with salmonella, according to the USDA.

Consumer groups are calling on the USDA to release the names of other slaughterhouses and establishments where a similar strain of salmonella was identified, BuzzFeed News previously reported. But according to food safety experts, federal agencies may be hesitant to issue public warnings right before Thanksgiving — and possibly tank turkey sales — before confirming a direct link to specific producers for this outbreak.

What does that mean for you? It’s pretty much impossible to know which brands are safe and which ones to avoid (aside from the recalled Jennie-O products) when buying a turkey — but that doesn’t mean you have to skip turkey entirely this year.

Yes, that’s right — you can have your turkey and eat it too (salmonella-free). The CDC is not advising consumers to avoid eating turkey products as long as they are cooked properly, which should kill any germs that can make you sick. Infections with salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, and cramping and lead to serious complications for people with weaker immune systems.

You and your Thanksgiving guests should be fine as long as you thaw the turkey the right way, handle it safely to avoid cross-contamination, and cook it to a high-enough internal temperature. But it’s also easy to make mistakes, especially if you’re a rookie chef or it’s your first time cooking an entire turkey.

Failing to use proper food safety practices while cooking turkey can allow for the growth or spread of salmonella and other nasty food-borne germs such as Campylobacter,Clostridium perfringens, and Staphylococcus aureus.

So here are some steps you can take to safely cook your turkey so you don’t accidentally make you or your guests really sick.

Wash your hands before, during, and after cooking.

Salmonella infections — and other bugs like norovirus — can also spread from one person to another, so always wash your hands before cooking for other people (you don’t want to be the cook who gets everyone sick).

You can also cross-contaminate surfaces and foods with germs from your hands when switching between cooking the raw turkey and other dishes. So it’s important to wash your hands after you touch raw turkey or its juices (even if you aren’t done cooking), and right before you sit down to eat.

One more thing: washing your hands doesn’t mean just running them under water for two seconds and wiping them dry on your pants. The proper hand washing technique is to lather your hands with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds, then rinse and dry them on a clean towel or using an air dryer. (More on proper hand washing here.)

Categories: Health