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Contaminated ground turkey? Here are some safety tips for cooking

Consumers

In the wake of the recent Consumer Reports investigation finding a high percentage of contamination in ground turkey sold at retail outlets, there are some things to remember about food safety.

The Times' Ricardo Lopez reported: "Consumer Reports said it tested 257 samples of ground turkey and patties from 21 states for five types of bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. Overall, more than 90% of samples tested positive for one or more of the bacteria for which the magazine tested, with 60% harboring E. coli. Three samples tested positive for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, which can lead to fatal infections."

Consumer Reports said that ground turkey labeled organic or 'raised without antibiotics' was as likely to contain the bacteria it tested for but was less likely to harbor antibiotic-resistant organisms, Lopez reported.

The National Turkey Federation, a trade association for the turkey industry, has disputed Consumer Reports’ findings. It says, among other things, that most of the contamination found was bacteria that are not harmful to humans and that the two most serious human pathogens were rare.

Whenever you decide to work with ground turkey -- or any ground meat for that matter -- here are some general tips to keep in mind.

Safety tips when handling and cooking turkey and other ground meats:

  • Keep meat cold: The USDA recommends storing meat at 40 degrees or below. When you buy meat at the store, purchase it last and bring it home quickly to refrigerate and keep it out of the "temperature danger zone" where bacteria flourish. If not using within a day or two, freeze the meat (thaw frozen meat under refrigeration -- do not leave it out to thaw).
  • Seal and properly store: Make sure the meat is fully wrapped (place it in a plastic bag before buying) so raw juices do not leak and potentially contaminate other groceries. At home, store raw meats at the bottom of the refrigerator, below items like fruits, vegetables, breads and cheese, to prevent possible contamination from leakage.
  • Wash: Wash your hands and all surfaces before handling meat, and be sure to thoroughly clean your hands and any surfaces afterward.
  • Cook to at least 165 degrees (well-done): Keep in mind that any ground meat -- not just turkey -- can harbor bacteria. When an animal is slaughtered, the surface of the meat can be exposed to bacteria. As the meat is ground, this bacteria can spread, contaminating the ground meat throughout.

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