belly pain

How to not poison your guests this Thanksgiving

Just because you’re forced to host your relatives this Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you should give them Salmonella poisoning.

The CDC recently reported that in the past sixteen months, there have been 74 reported Salmonella infections linked to turkey products (out of the total 164 reported Salmonella cases). That means that basically half of cases are coming from eating turkey. Salmonella infection can be very serious, as sixty-three of those victims required hospitalization, and one died.

What is Salmonella, and how could you get infected?

Salmonella is a kind of bacteria that spreads to people from raw or undercooked food (eggs, chicken, turkey, unpasteurized milk), as well as water that has been contaminated by feces. (Sorry to ruin your lunch!)

No specific brand of turkey products has been identified as the main culprit. The CDC reports that Salmonella has been found not only in live turkeys, but also in samples from many different raw turkey products and raw turkey pet foods. In fact, three of the sick people lived in households where the raw turkey was fed to the pet.

So what should you do to stay safe?

The CDC isn’t recommending that we stop eating cooked turkey – thankfully – but they would like everyone to take these precautions to lower their infection risk.

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing the turkey, as well as before and after eating.
  • Do not wash raw turkey before cooking, as you can actually spread the bacteria that way.
  • Make sure to wash all counters, utensils and dishes that come into contact with raw turkey with warm soapy water.
  • Do not thaw turkey on the counter, but rather in the refrigerator or in a sink with cold water that is changed every half hour.
  • Make sure all turkey meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, which can be checked by poking a food thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey. Leftovers should also be heated to 165 degrees.
  • Do not feed your pets raw turkey products.

What if you think you got food poisoning?

Salmonella infection usually causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever – all starting about 12-72 hours after being eating contaminated food. Most people get better without any treatment within a week.  If you have diarrhea, be sure to keep well hydrated with fluids (such as Pedialyte).

Get medical attention if you have severe diarrhea, intolerable abdominal pain, high fever, chills, or dizziness. Your infection may have spread to your bloodstream.  You probably require urgent antibiotics and intravenous fluids to keep your blood pressure stable. Children under age 5, adults over age 65, and people with immune compromise are at greater risk of severe infection.

A small percentage of people infected with Salmonella can later develop a syndrome known as reactive arthritis, which causes intermittent joint pain and swelling. In some cases, eye pain and burning with urination also occur.

For more information check out this page at the CDC’s website.

Marc Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C.

Marc Sabin Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C., is an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and an attending cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Christopher Kelly, M.D., M.S.

Christopher Rehbeck Kelly, M.D., M.S., is a cardiology fellow at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University Medical Center.