Food Poisoning

Thanksgiving is here again, which means turkeys will be the main meal for many American households. It is important to handle your turkey or any other type of poultry very carefully. It may contain Salmonella, a bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

Usually symptoms are seen in 12–36 hours, but can appear within three hours. Vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and headache are some common symptoms. Although anyone can be affected, the highest incidence of severe illness occurs in children under 5 and the elderly.

Treatment of food poisoning is as simple as rest and plenty of fluids. If you are afflicted with food poisoning, time is your greatest ally. Fever can be treated with acetaminophen (TylenolTM) or ibuprofen (AdvilTM). Remember that aspirin should never be given to children. The main consideration in treatment is to make sure that young children do not get dehydrated; therefore, maintaing sufficient fluids is critical. In nearly all ill patients, an uneventful recovery can be expected.

In the event of severe or prolonged symptoms a physician should be contacted. Either your primary care physician, or the emergency department. Any question relating to the symptoms or treatment of food poisoning may be directed to the Central Texas Poison Center at 800-222-1222.

The best way to prevent food poisoning is to be careful in the preparation and storage of your holiday turkey and all other foods on the menu. One of the most common ways food can be contaminated is through cross contamination. Food or hands come in contact with raw meat and then come in contact with other food. The best way to prevent this is good hand washing and thoroughly washing of all the utensils used.

Another important preventative measure is in the way the turkey is actually stored and prepared. It is important to store the turkey in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible after purchasing it. The next step is the thawing of the turkey. The safest way to thaw a turkey is in your refrigerator. That method will take anywhere from three to seven days. Cold water thawing will take approximately 5 – 15 hours. Smaller turkeys can be thawed in a microwave.

Never thaw the turkey on the counter. At room temperatures, a frozen turkey will thaw from the outside in. As the surface warms, bacteria can multiply to dangerously high levels.

The actual cooking time varies depending on the size of the turkey. The best way to determine if the turkey is fully cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Poultry is completed cooking when the inserted thermometer reaches 185°F. Another method used is to insert a fork into the thigh or breast and check the juices that flow. If the juices are clear the turkey is done. If you plan to stuff your turkey, do it just prior to roasting. Extra cooking time is required for the stuffing to reach the appropriate temperature of 165°F.

The final step to prevent food poisoning from your holiday meal is proper storage of leftovers. No food should be left out greater than two hours. Remove the stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate or freeze each separately. Never keep leftovers longer than four days.Throw them out at any time, if they look or smell bad. Also, when reheating leftovers make sure they are heated completely to 165°F.

Decreasing the Risk of Food poisoning
Following are a few simple tips that will help decrease your family's risk of food poisoning this holiday season. If you have any further questions please call the Poison Center at 800-222-1222.

  • Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, allowing one to three days for complete thawing. If time isn't allowed, immerse the bird in a watertight wrapper in cold water, continue adding ice to avoid turkey reaching room temperature.
  • Wash hands in hot soapy water before preparing your food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets. People with open cuts, sores, boils, vomiting or diarrhea should not handle food. Thaw food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Bacteria can grow in the outer layers of the food before the inside thaws. Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Wash cutting boards and utensils in hot soapy water after use. Use plastic cutting boards rather than wooden ones where bacteria can hide in grooves.
  • Stuff the turkey just prior to roasting. Remove liver and gizzards.
  • The safest method to determine when the turkey is cooked is to place a meat thermometer inside the thigh muscle (or thickest part of the breast). It should read 180°F–185°F for normal turkeys.
  • "Keep it Safe, Refrigerate." To reduce the growth of bacteria, the refrigerator should run at 40°F, the freezer at 0°F. (If you don't have a thermometer, keep your refrigerator as cold as possible without freezing your milk or lettuce.)
  • "When in doubt, throw it out."  Refrigerate turkey, gravy and stuffing within two hours after your meal. Room temperature isn't sufficient. Store foods in tightly sealed containers but don't pack your refrigerator so tight that air cannot circulate around the food properly.

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