4 things you don’t want to know about your Thanksgiving turkey


Count your blessings, but beware your Thanksgiving turkey.

I love Thanksgiving. It’s one of the few times that my extended family gathers to reconnect. It’s also one of the few days of the year when gluttony is totally acceptable. No one thinks twice about gorging themselves on the dishes of fixings that complement the buttery, golden-skinned bird at the center of the table. But before you sit down for your big meal this year, there are some things you need to know — or maybe things you don’t want to know — about your Thanksgiving turkey.

1. Your Thanksgiving turkey is full of antibiotics.

The overuse of antibiotics has created drug-resistant strains of bacteria, causing previously treatable illnesses to become dangerous and even life-threatening infections. If you’re a science geek, check out the animation the U.S. Food and Drug Administration created to explain antimicrobial resistance.

But here’s the really bad news: Around eighty percent of the total antibiotics used in the U.S. go into livestock production – and the turkey industry is a major culprit for the misuse of antibiotics. Corporate turkey operations rely on antibiotics not just to cure and prevent disease, but also to help fatten foul for slaughter.

Because turkey meat can pass along resistance to your gut, it’s entirely possible that drug-resistant bacteria will make it’s way from your Thanksgiving table to your intestinal tract.

2. Your Thanksgiving turkey lived a short and pathetic life.

Four poultry corporations produce more than half of the turkeys sold in the U.S. How do they do it? Factory farming.

In a typical scenario, the poultry company signs a short-term contract with an industrial farmer and delivers chicks to the farmer’s location. Just six weeks later, the poultry company returns to pick up big, fat birds ready for the table.

Since their contracts with the poultry companies are short-term, industrial farmers face constant pressure to deliver bigger birds in shorter timeframes. So, the birds raised on these farms are genetic “frankensteins” – turkeys that could never survive in the wild.

To stay afloat, factory farmers house their birds in extremely crowded facilities and grow them so quickly that many die of heart failure or experience bone fractures before they even get to the slaughterhouse.

Grocery-store turkeys that sell for $1.50 or less a pound are products of the factory farming system. Free-range or pasture-raised turkeys are also available, but they tend to have significantly higher price tags because they cost more to raise.

3. Thanksgiving Turkey is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Turkeys make ideal breeding environments for Salmonella and other bacterial pathogens. In most cases, you can neutralize the risks these pathogens pose with proper handling and cooking techniques. But it only takes a single misstep to turn your holiday festivities into a gastrointestinal adventure.

The magic cooking temperature for killing bacteria is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Although most holiday chefs take measures to ensure turkey meat reaches 165 degrees, the biggest threat to your health is found in your birds’ gut. If you stuff your turkey, you have to make sure the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees F. Turkey cavities are hotbeds for Salmonella and a failure to properly cook the stuffing can easily result in a nasty case of Salmonella poisoning.

Many experts also warn against washing the outside of your turkey before you cook it. When you spray water on the surface of a thawed turkey, it sends bacteria into the air, potentially infecting kitchen surfaces and raising the risk of cross-contamination. Because cooking the turkey to 165 degrees will kill the bacteria anyway, there’s really no point in washing it before you cook it.

4. Grocery-store Thanksgiving turkeys are “enhanced.”

Believe it or not, turkeys aren’t the easiest beasts to cook. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily find yourself serving a dry, overcooked turkey to your Thanksgiving guests. But if you’re a turkey producer, you have a vested interest in making turkeys as easy to cook as possible. So what’s the answer? Enhanced turkeys.

Turkey producers enhance their products by injecting them with a solution of saltwater and other additives, making your Thanksgiving turkey next-to-impossible to screw up. The downside is that enhanced turkeys introduce shockingly high levels of sodium into the meat. The sodium level is even higher if you brine your bird before you pop it into the oven.

If you’re on a low-sodium diet, enhanced turkeys are an obvious concern. But a whopping nine out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium and that’s a problem because excess sodium can put you at risk for stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, kidney stones and other illnesses.

The good news: Your Thanksgiving turkey won’t contain hormones.

Having second thoughts about diving into a heaping pile of turkey this Thanksgiving? Well, here’s a piece of good news: There is zero chance the turkey that lands on your table will have received hormones – at least not directly.

Although it’s common for producers to advertise their turkeys are “hormone-free,” the label is misleading. It’s illegal for producers to use hormones in the raising of turkeys and other poultry. But turkeys can be fed animal byproducts that may contain hormones and other artificial products to stimulate growth. They just can’t be directly injected with hormones.

It’s important to be mindful about the food we eat. Often, food items we consume are alarmingly unhealthy, and have been raised in a way that is harmful to people, animals and the environment. As you gather around the table this year, thank God for your blessings. And then, maybe say a little prayer that we might all do a better job reducing food waste, and making our food supply healthier and more sustainable.


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