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Talking Turkey: How to avoid spreading salmonella while cooking this Thanksgiving

More than a million Americans get sick because of salmonella every year.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The CDC estimates that 1.35 million Americans get sick because of salmonella every year. About a fifth of those illnesses come from chicken and turkey, according to their report.

Because so many people will be cooking turkey for Thanksgiving, Knox County Health Department's food safety expert, Camila Almeida, said she worries about people getting sick from their Thanksgiving dinner. 

"Salmonella is one of the harder bacteria to neutralize when it comes to food safety," Almeida said.

"It can cause vomiting and diarrhea," said Almeida. It can be very harmful to the elderly, the very young, and anyone who's immunocompromised." 

Almeida recommends people cook their entire turkey to 165°F and use a meat thermometer to confirm. 

She said the best way to check is to put the thermometer in the deepest part of the breast, thigh, and leg. 

"Don’t hit the bone, because that might give you a higher temperature than you need," Almeida said.

When cooling the Thanksgiving meal, Almeida said time matters. Food needs to cool from 135°F to 70°F within two hours, then below 40°F four hours after that. 

She said the best way to do it is to split the meat into smaller containers and put them in the fridge, or put the food on the counter in a container with ice and water.

Almeida said not to put the stuffing inside the bird until the turkey is fully cooked.

Another common mistake, Almeida said, is people wash the turkey before cooking. That's not recommended. 

"When we do that, we splatter a lot of water around our countertops and our surface areas, which can have salmonella on it," Almeida said.

 Almeida recommends disinfecting every surface that's touched raw poultry with a bleach solution. She mixes one capful of bleach with a gallon of water, then soaks a dish towel in that solution. 

Lastly, Almeida said leftovers should only stay in the fridge for seven days.