Common Viral Infections

Bacteria is more common than you think

Washing Turkey Spreads Bacteria

Thanksgiving is right around the corner once again, and families across the world will be feasting on various foods, including the iconic turkey. Different families cook the bird in their own unique way, but many families seem to share a common initial step. The steps to cooking a turkey more often than not start with washing the turkey in the sink, as a practice of sanitation. This common practice has been done for years and years, but there have been reports saying that this common practice of washing the turkey before cooking it is wholly unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

Salmonella, campylobacter, and other pathogenic bacteria will always be on raw chicken, no matter if you rinse the bird or not. There’s just no avoiding it, but there are ways to deal with these pathogenic bacteria. Washing the turkey or chicken or any other raw meat in your sink is just dangerous. The best method to killing those pathogenic bacteria is something you already do: cook the raw chicken, meat or turkey, and cook it well.

The more common of the two mentioned pathogenic bacteria is campylobacter. It has been reported that campylobacter is found on almost 50% of all commercially available whole chickens and poultry. There is no way that one can steer clear of having to deal with any bacteria on raw meat or poultry, so rinsing the raw meat or poultry is quite useless. Many believe that rinsing the chicken or turkey is a clean approach, especially since it’s been a common practice for quite some time now. However, this is not the case because rinsing the poultry will more than likely contaminate your kitchen. While rinsing your poultry, you are spreading whatever pathogenic bacteria is on the poultry, be it campylobacter or salmonella, around your kitchen. Pathogenic bacteria will spread throughout your countertop, sink, utensils, floors, walls, and even on you. There will be no telling where it spread to, because the water may help the bacteria spread all over the home without detection.

As stated before, campylobacter is the most common pathogenic bacteria found on poultry. In addition, it is the second most frequently reported cause of foodborne illnesses, making it quite a nuisance. The food safety chain must work in unison to ensure a safe eating of poultry, despite the fact that most of the raw meat and poultry will contain campylobacter. Retailers, consumers, farmers, food inspectors, and food service workers all play an important factor in being responsible with raw meat and poultry.

Marjorie Davidson, one of the consumer educators at the Food and Drug Administration stated: “washing raw meat and poultry before cooking makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops.”

The worst potential danger of washing poultry in your sink before cooking it is cross-contamination. This will lead to the spread of salmonella, campylobacter or other pathogenic bacteria, and may eventually lead to food poisoning. Food poisoning will most likely occur within about 48 hours of consumption, potentially causing one or a combination of the following: diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.

Dealing with campylobacter, since it is the most common bacteria found on your turkey and chicken, there is a particular infection you may get as result from washing your poultry: campylobacteriosis. The ways to get this particular disease are by consuming unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked meat or poultry, or some other contaminated food or water, in addition to coming into contact with the feces of infected animals. Even if you consume the bacteria, there may be a chance that you won’t see any symptoms from it, yet you may still spread it. There are a certain number of campylobacter cells that will cause you to become ill: around 500 cells.

If you happen to become ill due to campylobacter, there are some common symptoms that will tip you off: fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea that is sometimes bloody. In the event that the diarrhea becomes too severe, antibiotics may be prescribed by your physician. After you have eaten the undercooked or raw poultry, the infection may show up between 2 to 10 days after consumption. If you happen to become infected by campylobacter, the illness will last for about one week.

To further your intent on not washing your poultry before you cook it, there are more grating complications that can happen because of campylobacteriosis. These complications may be urinary tract infection, meningitis, and in very rare cases, reactive arthritis. In a much rarer case, campylobacter infections may cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, a unique type of paralysis. Most people will recover from campylobacter infections within only 2 to 5 days; however, some campylobacter infections have the ability to be fatal, resulting in over 100 deaths a year.

Many people believe that rinsing their poultry is sanitary because they don’t know who handled the raw chicken, meat or turkey before them. The only thing that other people touching the raw poultry or meat will do is possibly add more bacteria to it. Touching the poultry yourself will also add bacteria to the bird, even if you washed your hands thoroughly with soap. The raw meat or poultry already has bacteria, and more bacteria isn’t going to make things any worse. Water doesn’t kill or wash off the bacteria entirely; it only spreads it to other places in your kitchen. The only way to get rid of the bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella, is to cook the raw meat or poultry appropriately.

The chance of spreading illness this holiday season could be high due to the risky practice of washing your poultry before cooking it up for the family to feast on. If you happen to have a frozen turkey, and the bird needs to be defrosted before cooking, it is suggested that you do not leave it out to defrost. Instead, thaw the turkey in the fridge while the turkey sits in a pan. After the turkey is thawed out, you may wash the dish by itself in the dishwasher to avoid any spreading of bacteria. As an alternative, you may also roast the turkey frozen. The right amount of temperature will kill off any pathogenic bacteria, so cooking the turkey as it is serves as a recommendable option over rinsing the turkey. At about 165 degrees or higher, the heat will kill off the bacteria on the raw meat or poultry, ensuring that nobody will become ill from a poorly cooked meal.

From the team at the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension service, research by the UK Food Standards Agency has found the following information: there is a “potential increase in the risk of foodborne illness for individuals who wash chicken before cooking it.”

In general, bacteria that are found on the poultry will spread to about 3 feet from where the meat is washed in the sink. The bacteria will be airborne during the washing of the raw meat or poultry, spreading the pathogenic bacteria in various places around your kitchen. If it happens to cling on to pets or family members, they may spread it throughout your house, causing more potential scenarios of illness. So during your Thanksgiving cooking time, be sure to stop the tradition of washing the raw meat or poultry to ensure your family will be safe from food poisoning. It’s time to change the tradition of rinsing raw meat or poultry before cooking it. On Thanksgiving, fire-up the turkey right away instead of giving it a shower.