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Turkey: Put a fork in it, it's well done

By Tamara Boatwright

Beverly Simpson hoisted the rock-hard 18-pound turkey onto the check out counter at the grocery store and made an announcement, "I sure hope I don't kill anyone with this thing."

Simpson, married less than a year and a novice cook, took on the task of preparing the Thanksgiving turkey for her family. When asked by a fellow shopper why she took on such a daunting task Simpson just shrugged and looked at her wedding ring, "I want to make my husband proud of me."

Novice cook or not, Simpson probably won't harm anyone if she properly cooks the meat.

"Overcooked is better than undercooked," says Dr. William Watkins, medical director of the Emergency Department of Southern Regional Hospital.

Undercooked poultry exposes diners to campylobacter, a bacterial pathogen that lives happily in poultry but is not welcome at all in the human digestive tract. Campylobacter will throw a nasty fit eight to 12 hours after being consumed. It causes a sudden onset of abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea and will wreak havoc for 12 to 24 hours, according to Watkins.

"The best thing for someone to do is prevent this in the first place," Watkins said. "If they do become sick, they need to make sure they drink fluids n Gatorade and water are good n and let the diarrhea run its course. That's the body's way of ridding itself of something that isn't supposed to be there. If someone is still experiencing symptoms after 24 hours, they should seek medical assistance."

Watkins says few cases of campylobacter-caused illness are seen in the ER, most of the complaints during the holidays are the result of eating too much or eating foods that are too rich.

A short walk after a full meal or simply avoiding the temptation to overstuff yourself could help that bloated feeling, Watkins said.

"Again, prevention goes a long way," Watkins said.

If you must undertake the task of preparing the Thanksgiving meal there are a few basic rules to following, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. If you stuff the turkey, make sure the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. The turkey itself should register at least 180 degrees when a meat thermometer is inserted into the thickest, meatiest part of the bird.

Frying turkeys has become a popular form of preparation and a rather dangerous one, according to the Morrow Fire Department.

"Cooking a turkey in the oven is a lot different from cooking with an open vat of combustible liquid," Morrow Fire Chief David Wall said.

So far Morrow has had no problem with turkey fryers and Wall said he wants to keep it that way.

Turkey fryers should be used on a flat, stable surface outside and away from the home, Wall said, and the turkey should be completely thawed before being lowered into the fryer.

"It's not just the danger of fire that we are concerned about but the burn injuries that can result," Wall said. "Especially if you drop a cold turkey into it the hot oil will splatter and burn people."

Children should be kept away from the fryer and caution should be taken even after the cooking is finished.

"It stays hot for a long time after the bird hits the table," Wall said.

Never use water to extinguish or cool hot oil and, as usual, be very cautious with the butane gas used to heat the oil.

"Not only could you have a possible structure fire but also the potential for explosion," Wall said.

Staff writer Ed Brock contributed to this article.