By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
An eerie feeling overcame Tamela Johnson during a family gathering, causing the 34-year-old mother of three to suddenly get up from the dinner table, head toward the bathroom and yell out, “Move out of my way!”
She was soon interrupted by pounding on the door by several guests, demanding “hurry up.” Others sought refuge outside to vomit alongside the curb and in the yard.
“Last year was the worse Thanksgiving in my life,” Johnson recalled. “About eight people, including my kids, suffered from food poisoning. The only ones who didn’t get sick were my Aunt and Uncle, who are vegetarians. That turkey got the best of us. This year, we’re breaking tradition - serving ham.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million people get food-borne illnesses every year. Out of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
Those seeking to take shortcuts using turkey broth or packaged deli slices should be cautious. Michigan Turkey Producers is recalling over 54,000 pounds of turkey breast products that are contaminated with an unidentified black material.
Products listed under the recall are:
• 12-lb. packages containing “MESON SANDWICHES, OVEN ROASTED SLICED TURKEY BREAST” with a use or freeze by date of 11/27/16, and a case code of “48598” on the left side of the label
• 22-lb. logs containing “OVEN ROASTED TURKEY BREAST WITH BROTH,” with a use or freeze by date of 11/27/16, and a case code of “48576” on the left side of the label
• 22-lb. logs containing “OVEN ROASTED TURKEY BREAST WITH BROTH,” with a use or freeze by date of 12/15/16, and a case code of “48576” on the left side of the label
Besides avoiding tainted meat, health officials urge cooks to avoid welcoming unwanted guests to the dinner table - food-borne pathogens.
The National Turkey Federation notes the most common turkey food-borne pathogens are:
• Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that causes watery or sticky diarrhea and can contain blood”
• Clostridium perfringens, a bacteria that causes diarrhea
• Escherichia coli O157:H7, a bacteria causing diarrhea that starts out watery but turns "bloody"
• Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that sometimes causes diarrhea, as well as fever, fatigue, and aches and is especially dangerous for pregnant women, babies, and people with compromised immune systems
• Salmonella, a group of bacteria that cause fever and diarrhea
• Shigella, a group of bacteria that also cause fever and diarrhea
• Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that is commonly found in noses and on our skin. It can withstand high cooking temperatures and causes diarrhea and vomiting.
Practicing kitchen etiquette and cooking safety will lead to a enjoyable dinner experience.
The CDC recommends cooks take the following steps:
1. Safely thaw a turkey
Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. A frozen turkey is safe indefinitely, but a thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature can creep into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.
2. Safely handle a turkey
Bacteria from raw poultry can contaminate anything that it touches. Thoroughly wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces to prevent the spread of bacteria to your food and family.
3. Safely stuff a turkey
Cook stuffing in a casserole dish to make sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing's center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, and possibly cause food poisoning.
4. Safely cook a turkey
Set the oven temperature to at least 325°. Place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the bird. To make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, check by using a food thermometer inserted into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.
“Good presentation is only 25 percent of what’s needed to have a successful dinner party,” says Chef Greg. “We’ve got to take time to properly prepare and season the food in a clean environment. You don’t want people to remember the meal you cooked for bad reasons.”
While Johnson hopes that history won’t repeat itself, she plans to use extra caution when preparing this year’s ham.
“I want to give the gift of cheer, not fear,” she says. “My family says they don’t trust my cooking, so everyone’s bringing a dish. But, I hope to win them back with my ham. There will be no unwelcome guests this year at our table. Like my grandma use to say, ‘I ain’t got time for a jive turkey.’”