Is Your Thanksgiving Turkey Safe?

November 19, 2010

Before you take a bite of that Thanksgiving turkey (or leftovers), you may want to read on and make sure you’ve cooked that holiday bird well!

Consumer Warning Network reported a few years ago that the 2008 Farm Bill loosened federal regulation of poultry inspections by allowing state inspection programs take the place of federal inspections. With Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners around the corner, how’s that little bit of federal deregulation working out?

On November 14, the USDA announced the recall of 2600 pounds of cooked smoked turkey products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a deadly bacterial agent. The turkey products from New Braunfels Smokehouse in Texas had been inspected by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Consumers Union recently tested 382 whole chicken broilers bought at over 100 supermarkets nationwide, and tested them for salmonella and campylobacter, the two leading causes of food poisoning. Two-thirds of the raw chickens tested showed signs of one or both of these dangerous contaminants. A similar test back in 2003 had found such contaminants in half of the chickens examined. On the other hand, another test in 2007 had found a higher rate of contamination.

The cleanest products came from Perdue chickens, but the worst came from Tyson and Foster Farms. Interestingly, all of the store brand “organic chickens” involved in the testing were free of salmonella. Of course, all chickens are presumably “organic,” but organic farmers usually follow more stringent standards in their smaller operations.

So, are we better off with less federal regulation? The jury is still out. Now that your local state inspector doesn’t have as many pesky federal inspectors looking over his shoulder, it remains to be seen whether the level of safety will suffer. Is it acceptable that only one out of three poultry products can be considered safe?

The recent Texas recall points out the importance of food safety inspections and the need to guarantee that governmental regulations in this area not be shortchanged in the push for “less government.”

With every three poultry purchases at your supermarket, two of them will probably have bacterial contamination. This is why it is so important to follow safe cooking rules whenever you roast that turkey stuffed with dressing.

UPDATE: Food Safety Regulations Overhauled by Senate