I heard this on the radio yesterday morning, I kid you not: Butterball has a "Turkey Talk" toll-free helpline, which naturally gets busy around turkey holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Like many helplines, they get stories of every kind, and this year apparently one person called in and asked if it was alright that she thawed her frozen turkey in the bathtub – while her kids were in it taking a bath!
Anyone who has read anything about food safety hopefully knows that raw meat can potentially be (and usually is) contaminated with many different pathogens – that’s the biggest reason why observing proper cooking times and temperatures is so important. Raw poultry in particular should basically be treated like it’s contaminated with Salmonella and/or Campylobacter until proven otherwise. You can just imagine the field day that these bacteria could have in a nice warm, wet bathtub – it’s just the way they like it, and it’s exactly what we try to avoid in the kitchen, where food is ideally kept either nice and cold or nice and hot in order to prevent (or at least minimize) bacterial growth. Then of all things to put young children in this veritable cesspool of bacteria – turkey and all – it’s just a gastrointestinal disaster waiting to happen. You also needs to consider what the turkey could become contaminated with sitting in bathwater. Even children who don’t have diarrhea can be shedding intestinal pathogens – human pathogens which are obviously transmissible to other people. If you really cooked that bird well (maybe deep-fried it) I suppose that should ultimatley eliminate any surface contamination anyway, but I don’t think I’d be able to get past the "ick" factor. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but of there’s a turkey in there (as far as I’m concerned) that can go.
I realize this is primarily a food safety issue, but it made me think about what else this person (or others) may put in a bathtub. In previous posts in which we’ve talked about reptiles kept as pets (all of which should be treated as Salmonella carriers), we’ve mentioned that ideally (if they need a bath) they should be bathed in their own designated container (like a big rubbermaid) and not in the bathtub. If there is no other option and the bathtub must be used, it should be thoroughly cleaned and properly disinfected (keeping contact-time with the disinfectant in mind) before it is used again by a person (especially children).
Ideally the same precautions should be taken if you bathe a dog in the bathtub, but the risks are not as high as with reptiles (unless the dog is very dirty, has skin lesions, or has (or recently had) diarrhea). We’ve talked about the limited risks of allowing dogs in backyard swimming pools (but of course there is even less chlorine in bath water). I hope no one ever bathes their dog with their kids – we could debate the risks, which likely aren’t high anyway, but in the end the risk is simply unnecessary. The pool is one thing, but there’s no reason for a dog to be in the tub at the same time as the kids (and really, how clean are the kids going to get with a dirty dog in the tub?). If you’re trying to save water you can always throw the dog in after the kids are out.
If you’re attempting to bathe a cat in the tub… well, based on most feline behaviour I’d say your primary risks are bites and scratches more than enteric bacteria and parasites. Proceed at your own risk!
A happy (and hopefully healthy) American Thanksgiving to all of our US readers!