The most common microorganisms contributing to foodborne illnesses associated with turkey are Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli O157:H7(E. coli), Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Shigella and Staphyloccocus aureus.

Campylobacter jejuni has only recently been associated with human illness and is frequently mistaken for a stomach virus infection. It is a slow-growing bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. It causes illness two to five days after eating the contaminated food.

The organism can be destroyed by heat and thorough cooking and prevented by good kitchen hygiene practices:

  • Wash hands with soap before handling raw poultry, after handling raw poultry and before touching anything else.
  • Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen with the following basic kitchen hygiene practices:
    a. Use separate cutting boards for foods of animal origin.
    b. Carefully clean all cutting boards, countertops and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw poultry.
Clostridium perfringens can grow without oxygen and can create spores that are resistant to cooking temperatures. These bacteria grow in meat or poultry that has been held for a long time before cooking or in precooked meat that is eaten cold or improperly reheated. Institutional feeding (such as school cafeterias, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, etc.) where large quantities of food are prepared several hours before serving is the most common circumstance in which Clostridium perfringens occurs. The young and elderly are the most frequent victims. Factors involved in the curing process help make cured meats an unlikely vehicle for this microorganism. To prevent this organism from growing, cook turkey immediately after thawing or chill cooked turkey rapidly, cover and refrigerate promptly.

Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli) is found in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals. Usually associated with ground beef, the organism can be found in ground turkey. E. coli 0157:H7 is sensitive to heat and can be destroyed by thorough cooking. Cook all ground poultry thoroughly. Because ground poultry can turn brown before disease-causing bacteria are killed, use a digital instant-read food thermometer to ensure thorough cooking. Ground poultry should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads 165ºF.

It also is important to follow proper sanitation methods and avoid cross-contamination from equipment and utensils. Avoid spreading harmful bacteria in the kitchen. Keep raw poultry separate from ready-to-eat foods. After any contact with raw poultry, wash hands, counters and utensils with hot soapy water. Never place cooked burgers or ground poultry on the unwashed plate that held raw patties. Wash food thermometers in between tests of patties that require further cooking.

Listeria monocytogenes is found in water, soil and sewage. Many healthy humans are carriers as are healthy wild and domestic animals. The disease that results is called listeriosis, which is often manifested in a mononucleosis-like infection or meningitis. Because of the seriousness of these symptoms and other long-term effects of the disease, there is significant concern in the scientific community about Listeria monocytogenes.

In general, Listeria monocytogenes poses little or no threat for healthy children and adults. However, pregnant women, newborns, individuals with compromised immune systems and the elderly are more susceptible to listeriosis, the disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes. It is particularly important that foodservice employees follow proper food handling and food safety techniques for all foods, especially those serving the population with a greater potential risk to become contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

General recommendations:

  • Thoroughly cook raw poultry.
  • Keep uncooked poultry separate from vegetables, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Wash hands, knives and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
Recommendations for persons at high risk, such as pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems, in addition to the recommendations listed above:
  • Leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs and sausages, should be cooked until steaming hot.
  • Although the risk of listeriosis associated with foods from deli counters is relatively low, pregnant women and immunosupressed persons may choose to thoroughly reheat cold cuts before eating.
Salmonella bacteria are widespread in nature and live and grow in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals. Fully cooked foods, including poultry, do not normally contain Salmonella. The disease caused by salmonella (salmonellosis) may occur if foods contaminated by the bacteria are not properly cooked or are mishandled after cooking. Salmonella are found in both cooked and uncooked foods, especially protein foods such as meat, milk, poultry and eggs.

Salmonella is heat sensitive and can be destroyed by cooking food to temperatures above 165ºF. Cross-contamination of foods should be avoided. Uncooked poultry should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods. Hands, cutting boards, counters, knives and other utensils should be washed thoroughly after handling uncooked foods. Hands should be washed before handling any food and between handling different food items

Shigella causes a bacterial dysentery called shigellosis. Foods implicated in outbreaks include salads (e.g., potato, tuna, poultry) and other types of cut, diced or chopped and mixed foods. The bacteria are spread by food handlers, who may be symptomless carriers or may be recovering from the disease. Food is contaminated by hand manipulation or mixing and by subsequently cooking the product incompletely or holding the food at temperatures that allow the organisms to grow.

To prevent occurrence of shigellosis, maintain high standards of personal hygiene among workers. Do not allow ill people to work with food. The spread of Shigella from an infected person to other persons can be stopped by frequent and careful hand washing with soap.

Staphyloccocus aureus can grow in a variety of foods and can produce a heat-resistant toxin or poison that can cause illness. Because the toxin is difficult to destroy, you must prevent it from forming. You can do this by keeping foods out of the "danger" temperature zone (i.e., 40º to 140ºF) and by minimizing food contamination. Handling by foodservice personnel is a major issue related to staph.

To control the spread, keep hot foods above 140ºF and keep cold foods below 40ºF. Prevent people with nasal discharges or skin infections from handling food.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides a Web site with current disease information:


Food-Borne Illness
Sanitation & Storage
Maintaining Approved Temperatures

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