Washing anything makes it cleaner and safer, right? Not necessarily.
Wash your hands, but not the turkey! Many consumers think that washing their turkey will remove bacteria and make it safer. However, it’s virtually impossible to wash bacteria off the bird. Instead, juices that splash during washing can transfer bacteria onto the surfaces of your kitchen, other foods and utensils. This is called cross-contamination, which can make you and your guests very sick. Washing your hands before and after handling your turkey and its packaging is crucial to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.
Be sure to wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. This simple, but important step can help keep you and your guests safe from foodborne illness. If your raw turkey or its juices come in contact with kitchen surfaces, wash the counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water. For extra protection, surfaces may be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Be sure to let those areas dry thoroughly.
The only way to destroy bacteria on your turkey is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Some chefs prefer to cook to a higher temperature for flavor and texture. Therefore, you don’t need to wash your turkey, but you will need a food thermometer on Thanksgiving Day. Remember to check the turkey’s temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast to be sure it is free of illness-causing bacteria.
Visit Washing Food: Does It Promote Food Safety? for more information.
Ask Karen, the virtual food safety representative, is available 24/7 at AskKaren.gov. Weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is available at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline will be open from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm Eastern Time.