Food safety: Stuffing the turkey…with disease!

You want to stuff what?! In where?! Source, Flickr creative commons, (C) donjd2

This post was originally posted at Mind the Science Gap on Nov. 22, 2012.

If you’re reading this from the hospital, it may be too late. If you’re feeling a bit queasy after a big meal of turkey, stuffing, and veggies, you may want to eat an antacid before continuing to read.

Stuffing and Disease

Cooking a stuffed turkey has been linked to food-borne illness. The problem stems, not from the inherent danger of stuffing, but from the cross-contamination of stuffing with turkey juices. If the now-potentially-bacteria-laden stuffing does not reach the same internal temperature as the meat (165 degrees F), there is a risk that bacteria from the meat may survive the cooking process.

In 2009, Greig and Ravel analyzed internationally reported foodborne outbreak data for source. 105 outbreaks were attributed to turkey and other poultry (not including chicken) between 1988 and 2005. (It is important to remember in this instance that an outbreak of disease means that more cases are reported than normally expected for that time frame.) These outbreaks included Clostridium perfringens (botulism’s less deadly cousin), Campylobacter (which causes diarrhea, sometimes bloody), E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes (the causative agent of listeriosis, one of the nastier food-borne illnesses. 20-30% of cases result in death), multiple types of salmonella and staph, and norovirus. (I can ensure you that there is no faster way to ruin a holiday than to infect your whole family with norovirus. Or listeriosis. ) Continue reading