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Are there Antibiotics in your Thanksgiving Turkey?

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Truth – the first turkey I ever cooked was still frozen when it hit our plates. I couldn’t figure out why that thing was taking so long to roast. Then it hit me. I forgot to defrost the bird. If I recall correctly, even the giblets were still in it. It was ten p.m. when I broke the news to my guests that the turkey was not happening. A pizza was ordered, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that they would not be suffering from a bout of food poisoning.

These days I defrost the turkey a few days ahead of the holiday. I know a turkey is done when it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh and 165 degrees in the breast or stuffing. However, what I do not know is whether pesticides are lurking in the yummy deliciousness. As a scientist, I think about these things all the time. It is a common work hazard. For instance, the mass produced turkeys you find in the grocery store are injected with veterinary medicines to prevent illnesses and accelerate growth. No matter how long you cook the bird, those pesticides can remain in the meat even though a required withdrawal period takes place before slaughter.

Thankfully, manufacturers entrust labs to test routinely food for antibiotics using technology like the SCIEX QTRAP® which can detect antibiotics at trace levels. Common drugs including OxytetracyclineTetracycline and Chlortetracycline, can be detected at low levels in less than three minutes. What is more is that our High-Resolution MS library contains more than 240 veterinary drug compounds to assist labs in the analysis of animal tissue that makes me feel much better about eating my turkey.  

I understand not everyone wants a mass spectrometer as their centrepiece on Thanksgiving Day, which is why you can be grateful the testing happens well in advance of the bird purchase. However, if you are concerned about antibiotics in your turkey then check with local farmers to see how they raise their birds.

USDA Turkey FACTS

  • Before turkeys reach retail stores, they are inspected for disease by the USDA or state systems
  • No hormones have been approved for use in turkeys
  • Limits are set for drug residue (numbers are not published on their website)
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