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Ground turkey safe to eat?

Government does not know the source of a salmonella outbreak that has killed 1 person and sickened at least 76 others.

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Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 12:00 am

WASHINGTON -- Once again, American families are wondering whether to eat a normally reliable, healthy food. This time, it's ground turkey.

It's been implicated in the latest food poisoning outbreak, one that has killed one person, in California, and sickened at least 76 others, including children. Why hasn't the government ordered a recall? It doesn't know the source of the salmonella that's causing the illness.

Cook that turkey, officials say in the meantime. Cooking it thoroughly -- to 165 degrees -- is the one reliable way to kill the germ.

Is it safe to eat then? "If you cook food properly it is," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Associated Press on Wednesday after speaking to a group of food safety experts in Milwaukee. "That's the key."

But that still may not calm everyone's concerns, he acknowledged.

"If there's any question, then toss it out," Vilsack said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

Consumers have plenty of questions.

Seventy-five-year-old Beverly Pounds, buying groceries for lunch Wednesday at a Kroger supermarket in Atlanta, said she learned about the salmonella scare in her local newspaper and decided she would not buy ground turkey for the time being. She typically bakes ground turkey in her meatloaf and uses it to make spaghetti sauce.

She said she wasn't sure whether thoroughly cooking ground turkey would kill all of the harmful bacteria.

"I don't know whether there are some salmonella (strains) that will die if it reaches a certain temperature or it won't," she said.

Grocery stores say they are passing the food safety tips on to concerned customers and letting them know the latest word from the government. Kroger stores have brochures available on how to properly cook meat.

The Agriculture Department, which oversees meat safety, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that properly cooking ground turkey ensures its safety. But it's also important that raw meat be handled properly before it is cooked and that people wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling the meat. Turkey and other meats should also be properly refrigerated or frozen and leftovers heated.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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