WASHINGTON -- The food police are at it again, warning that most Thanksgiving turkeys are loaded with unwelcome holiday guests -- bacteria hidden deep inside the tasty bird.
Federal inspectors found traces of bacteria in 90 percent of turkeys tested in a survey last year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said yesterday.
They're the scolds who made you feel guilty with reports on the artery-clogging dangers of movie popcorn and Chinese food.
But don't despair. Careful preparation and cooking can prevent food poisoning, say the nutrition group and food experts.
The cooking advice isn't complicated, food industry experts note.
"It's what your grandmother always said -- just cook the bird," said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
Because of recent contamination scares in meat and poultry processing, federal inspectors began inspecting poultry plants more rigorously in January.
One result: The salmonella contamination rate in chicken has been reduced from 20 percent to 10 percent, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found.
But another strain of bacteria, called campylobacter, was found in 90 percent of turkeys leaving the plant, in a survey just before the new inspection began.
Those bacteria are difficult and expensive to test for, said Andy Solomon, a spokesman for the USDA.
They're also the leading cause of bacterial food poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The numbers aren't a surprise, and we're trying to bring them down," said Beth Gaston, spokeswoman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
"We expect sanitation and inspections to improve overall."
Until then, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman acknowledged that grandma, not government, is the last line of defense: "The final, critical point for preventing food-borne illness is the kitchen of every American home."
Freezing and then thoroughly cooking a turkey can eliminate most of the danger, said Caroline Smith De Waal, the center's director for food safety.
L Surveys show the turkey tradition is just as strong as ever.
Last year, Americans consumed 18 pounds of the high-protein, low-fat bird per person, and the National Turkey Federation crows that 91 percent of U.S. families serve turkey at Thanksgiving.
Pub Date: 11/20/98