NEW YORK (CBS) A time-honored tradition for many families on Thanksgiving is cooking a turkey but many don't realize that bacteria found in many turkeys can contaminate an entire kitchen and expose guests to foodborne illnesses.
Howard Baker is on the hunt for the perfect-sized turkey and knows food-safety comes first. "We take precautions because we have grandchildren and we want to keep them healthy as well," he said.
This Thanksgiving follows a 16-month salmonella outbreak blamed on recalled turkey products. The outbreak ended in March but serves as a warning for consumers.
"Diarrhea, fever, chills -- you can end up in the hospital and unfortunately end up dying from some of these," said the USDA's Chris Bernstein.
Salmonella and campylobacter are the two types of bacteria found in the guts of many turkeys. To protect yourself, food safety experts say wash your hands but don't wash or rinse the bird.
"Recent USDA research found that when individuals wash meat or poultry, they end up spreading germs in much greater levels all around the kitchen including into food that may be served," Bernstein said.
Health officials also recommend always using a meat thermometer. Pop-up thermometers that come included with most turkeys are not enough to make sure all bacteria is cooked out. "You want to make sure you cook that turkey to a full 165 degrees throughout the bird, because it's so large it can cook unevenly. So, you need to take that temperature in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the inner-most part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing," Bernstein said.
Experts also warn never to partially cook a turkey and then transport it elsewhere to finish cooking. Never stuff a turkey the night before, and never thaw the bird on the counter -- thaw it in your fridge or in cold water.
The USDA does not recommend stuffing a turkey at all because it takes so much longer to cook and the stuffing must also reach a temperature of 165 degrees to ensure bacteria is cooked out. Food safety experts say you don't have to worry about cross-contamination if you cook the stuffing separately.
Simple steps to keep your family safe this thanksgiving.