How Safe Is That Farm-to-Table Turkey?
Life + Money

How Safe Is That Farm-to-Table Turkey?

With local food and farm-to-table movements on the rise, it’s become increasingly trendy for consumers to bypass supermarkets and buy their turkeys directly from the local farm.

Consumers are using websites such as Local Harvest or Eat Well Guide to find local farms that sell turkeys, sometimes ordering the birds months in advance. Some even rely on to find a farm near them and purchase a bird for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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When you buy a turkey directly from a farm, it’s likely the bird had a more diverse and natural diet, which translates into a more distinct flavor than for those from grocery stores.

The price of farm-grown turkeys varies from farm to farm but is generally significantly higher than the price of commodity birds. The most common turkeys found in supermarkets such as the broad-breasted turkey can cost around $1 a pound, while the organic or Heritage turkeys can cost as much $5 to $14 a pound.

“With the expanding market, there is a gap in pricing between turkeys labeled ‘frozen,’ ‘fresh’ and ‘organic,’” Kimmon Williams, a spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation, told The Fiscal Times.

“There is no set price for a turkey that is bought directly from a farm, however, I’ve seen them average between $70 and $130 for a 16-pound bird.”

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Another thing to keep in mind when purchasing a turkey straight from the farm is that it is usually under the radar of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the government body that inspects each bird sold in stores nationwide.

“All turkeys found in retail stores are either inspected by the USDA or by state systems, which have standards equivalent to the federal government,” the USDA notes on its FAQ page. “Each turkey and its internal organs are inspected for evidence of disease.”

One of the USDA’s goals, through the Food Safety and Inspection Service, is to detect possible contamination of the birds by salmonella, campylobacter and other bacteria. 

The USDA estimates that 240 million turkeys were produced in 2013, all inspected by USDA. Of these, 46 million were eaten at Thanksgiving and 22 million at Christmas.

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Although it’s not clear how many fresh-killed turkeys – which skip the slaughterhouse and as a result often aren’t inspected by USDA – are produced each year, experts believe these turkeys are nevertheless safer than those inspected by the government.

“Because of the conditions under which they’re raised, they are inherently healthier birds,” Jo Robinson, founder and director of EatWild, a website on eating healthy wild local food, told The Fiscal Times.

“They have not been treated with the arsenic-based compound Nitarison,” she added, which is typically used by large-scale production facilities in the first six weeks of a turkey’s 20-week lifespan.

She also said that commercial turkey producers continue to treat their birds with antibiotics solely to promote their growth. “Do farm-based turkey producers use any of these products? Not to my knowledge,” she said. “An organically produced bird is guaranteed not to have been treated with these drugs, as it is not permitted in the criteria for certification.”

If you worry about contamination, here is some advice from the USDA to stay safe while eating turkey this Thanksgiving:

  • Buy your turkey only one to two days before you plan to cook it.
  • Avoid pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly. Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys are okay.
  • Cook a frozen pre-stuffed turkey from the frozen state, without thawing it before cooking.
  • Cook a whole turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Always thoroughly wash your hands, your utensils, your sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices.


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