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MRSA in turkeys FAQs

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
turkey food poisoning

27th November 2013 -- MRSA has been found in turkeys and chickens on a farm in the UK for the first time.

What does this finding mean to food hygiene in the run up to Christmas poultry preparation? How much of a risk does this bug pose and how can people reduce the risk? Read our FAQs.

What was found?

Livestock-Associated Meticillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or LA-MRSA, in poultry on a farm in East Anglia.

LA-MRSA is different to type of superbug responsible for hospital 'superbug' infections.

This strain of bacteria is relatively widespread in livestock in Europe, including countries from which meat is imported into the UK.

What's the risk?

There are no known cases of people contracting MRSA from eating meat.

The risk of getting LA-MRSA from eating turkey and chicken is very low, as long as the meat is handled hygienically and cooked thoroughly to kill the bacteria.

The risk of the non-farm workers catching LA-MRSA from any bird or animal is also said to be very low.

LA-MRSA rarely causes disease in people. When cases do happen, the bacteria usually clears in 24 hours.

What's the link to antibiotics?

MRSA is a bacterium that's become resistant to many antibiotics. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate conducts an extensive programme to monitor antibiotic resistance in bacteria from animals by taking samples.

It considers all cases of resistance identified to check whether there is any risk to human or animal health.

What else can cause food poisoning in turkey and chicken?

Every year around 4,500 people get food poisoning in December alone from campylobacter bacteria found in turkey and chicken. Salmonella is another bacterium to avoid.

The risks are higher at Christmas when people may cook a bigger bird than usual and prepare food for more people than at other times of the year.

What turkey tips do health experts recommend?

The NHS says frozen turkey needs to be properly defrosted before it is cooked. Tips include:

  • If any areas are still frozen, cooking can be uneven allowing harmful bacteria to survive the oven.
  • The turkey packaging should give defrosting times. In a fridge, defrosting can take around 10-12 hours per kilo. At room temperature, the process takes around 2 hours per kilo.
  • For defrosted and fresh turkey, the uncooked turkey needs to be kept away from food that's ready to eat.
  • Bacteria can spread from raw meat and poultry to worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils.
  • After touching raw poultry or any raw meat, wash hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly.
  • Don't wash turkey before cooking as splashes of water can spread bacteria.
  • Clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils properly after they have touched raw poultry or meat.
  • Don’t use the same chopping board for raw poultry and other food without washing it first. It is better to have separate chopping boards for raw meat and poultry.
  • Proper cooking will kill any bacteria. Follow instructions or work out cooking times in advance to avoid risks from undercooking.
  • In a preheated oven at 180ºC, 350ºF, gas mark 4, allow 45 minutes per kilo plus 20 minutes for a turkey under 4.5kg. Allow 40 minutes per kilo for a turkey that's between 4.5kg and 6.5kg and 35 minutes per kilo for a turkey of more than 6.5kg.
  • Check the turkey is cooked by making sure the meat is steaming hot all the way through, there's no pink meat when cutting into the thickest part of the turkey. The juices should also run clear when the turkey is pierced or the thigh is pressed.
  • If checking with a temperature probe or food thermometer, the thickest part of the bird between the breast and the thigh should reach at least 70°C for two minutes.

Reviewed on November 27, 2013

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