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To Wash or Not to Wash… Your Turkey?

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 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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

13 Responses to “To Wash or Not to Wash… Your Turkey?”

  1. Lee Price says:

    This is hysterical and just plain dumb. It’s common sense to wash the surfaces of your counter top and anything else that comes into contact with a chicken or turkey that you are preparing. But to say don’t wash your turkey is just plain stupid. Why would anyone want the juices that from poultry packing to be cooked along with your food particularly if you plan to stuff the bird? When my sister told me about what was being broadcast over her television about not washing the turkey, I could not believe it, but I see it here in print. Do you have adults or people who cook working ask editors in your company, apparently not!

  2. dtf says:

    This has been my husbands job every Thanksgiving morning for the past 26 years and no one got sick. First we clean the sink area, everything goes far away. Places the turkey in the sink, takes off all plastics and starts rinsing in cold water and scrubbing with salt. Then he massages half a bottle of cognac all over and lets that drain off. Places it in the pan and we stuff it. Then I take a bottle of spray disinfectant and clean the sink, counter and everything before using it again. Am I lucky or what?

  3. S. L. Hall says:

    Who are U, and by what authority do U speak from? R U a Dietician, Doctor, or even a Chef? Probably not. I learned how to carve a turkey, the right way, from watching Martha Stewart on TV. That was a few years ago. Now, she is also saying the same thing about washing any bird. I don’t live daily worrying about what is going to make me sick. But, when it comes to caring for guests in my house, then these simple steps will guarantee a good dinner with them, and a good memory in their minds when they DON’T get sick next week. Prevention, even if U don’t “Think” that it’s necessary, is always the best route to take. If U must error, then lean towards safety. Your body will thank you.

    I know that this is all easy to do, and mostly common sense, but don’t deride it, since there is a multitude of people who don’t have that knowledge yet.

    The difference between ignorant and stupid is that the ignorant people simply don’t Know any better, the Stupid do, but chose to disregard it.

    Which category do U fit in?

    BTW, I ate from a Turkey that was prepared by Albertson’s(R), and I don’t know what their standards are, but it was moist, delicious and easy to cut, (The RIGHT Way,according to Martha Stewart).

    Don’t throw a soppy wet rag on everybody’s Thanksgiving Day.

    Don’t you find it interesting that, here our Government, is trying to send out warnings, in our, (The People) Favor, and You Rebut them… Ironic, don’t you think?

  4. S. L. Hall says:

    I wanted to say Thank You to the people responsible for making this information possible.

    Also a Big KUDOS to Albertson’s(R) for their concerted effort towards our moment to Reflect on all of the good Gifts from God this year.

    I also believe that however the bird was prepared, Our Praying a blessing over it will make sure that from the GOD Level, it will contain nothing harmful. But, we should do anything possible to care for ourselves as well…once done, then it’s in the hands of our Gracious Father.

    I hope that you did have a Merry, worry free Thanksgiving Day!

  5. S. L. Hall says:

    Hi DTF, I don’t think that LUCK had anything to do with your healthy dinner. Your Husbands concerted effort towards your healthy enjoyment is to credit. He has been doing all of the right things for 26 years, and nothing has gone wrong yet. Give him another 26 years, and I’m sure that He will take care of you in this fashion every year. You are fortunate to have him!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope your day together was special. You might consider rinsing the bird with Cognac as well, this will clean and flavor the inside before it gets stuffed. The bacteria on the outside is more concentrated on the inside. Besides, if you do enjoy the flavor of Cognac, then rinsing the inside won’t hurt a thing, and may add something to your overall delight.


  6. S. L. Hall says:

    Hi Mr. Price, While reading your post again, it reminded me of the first time I allowed my (#1) wife cook everything for Thanksgiving…She insisted on “Serving” Me, as a surprise that day.

    Well, she didn’t know that there was a Giblet pack inside, so she didn’t feel for it, but instead, she stuffed the bird over top, and behind the pack. She did say that she always saw more stuffing come out of the same size turkey, but I didn’t comment. I knew something was going wrong, but she didn’t want any help from me, so I stayed away from the kitchen. It was found when she was serving up the meal.

    She wasn’t stupid, even though she felt like it. She just didn’t know. Her Mother didn’t teach anything to her about cooking, cleaning or other life skills, which are important to the success/happiness of any one person or family.

    She didn’t fail with my “Surprise Dinner”, her mother failed to teach her how to do it. “Common Sense” is a thing learned, taught or observed, and not a Birth Right.

    All people are not as smart or wise as us, so try not to dump on anybody who is only attempting to help, and expecting nothing in return.

    Think about this, it’s nothing like “Obummer Care”, we are not FORCED to do it against our will. It’s an information system that only suggests. If we decide to reject it, that’s up to the individual reader. We can also unsubscribe too.

    Yea, some people already know this information, or have a Better Way, which qualifies to the end point. But this is disseminated to assist the billions who don’t know what they are doing in the kitchen.

    Young couples must rely on what was taught or learned in various ways, but they struggle with many of the every day issues, because they simply don’t know.

    I am particularly thankful for this arm of government that has been formulated for one purpose…to provide meaningful safety information towards bettering our health and daily living.

    To me, some of it may be foolish…then I chose to delete it, no foul / no error.

    I appreciate everybody who is behind providing this bit of wisdom, and applaud them.

    Mr. Price, I hope that you don’t think that my reply’s purpose is to ridicule or mock you. It’s not, it’s just my positive thoughts With your post, not condemning it.

    Thank you for your input, I do hope to hear more from you in future posts.

    A common Human…with a little common sense, but still found wanting.

  7. S. L. Hall says:

    Oh, Mr. Price, my first reply to you @ 3:04PM AZ time was very harsh.

    I am sorry for losing it, and trashing you without good cause. In reality, there is no “Good” cause for it. Please absolve me.

    The mention of Martha Stewart was incomplete; I should also say that I used to totally rout the bird into pieces when attempting to carve it, until I saw that show.

    I particularly try to evade her broadcast, but I saw this as fascinating, and found that it did benefit my ability to perform in a mostly crumb-free mode. The end results are, everybody has thin sliced left over’s to make delicious sandwiches later on.

    Yet again, I cultured something, even though I didn’t fancy watching her series.

    Once more, I’m regretful for my insults; my only hope is that the team here will edit out the debris.

    Thank you,


  8. jane says:

    Every scientific study says not to wash the bird.

  9. james brown says:

    remove the bird from the bag
    remove the innards
    tip the bird (neck up) & LET THE JUICES RUN OUT (LEE)
    When you wash the bird, you spread what bacteria there is to other parts of the bird! Temperature alone kills bacteria. Do yourself a favor…cook the stuffing separately, and moisten/flavor it with the cooked juices from the pan.

  10. Paul says:

    So the way I’m seeing things here is not to worry about the bacteria, just make sure every part of the meat is at a temperature of at least 165 degrees, to kill the bacteria. So if there be any bacteria in or on the meat it will be killed if cooked to a temperature above 165 degrees f.

    So why tell people not to thaw out at room temperature, as cooking the meat to above 165 degrees will kill the bacteria. So thawing out room temperature or lukewarm warm water will not be of great harm as long as the meat is cooked at or above 165 degrees????
    So you may also wash very carefully, making sure nothing gets crossed contaminated, just make sure the meat is cooked to at or above 165 degrees???

  11. Margaret says:

    Thank you James for being brief and right to the point.

  12. Ben [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Paul – there are some bacteria that, if allowed to multiply, produce toxins that cannot be killed by cooking. Also, if a food is allowed to sit out long enough the numbers of bacteria may become so great that you wouldn’t be able to kill them all. There is no way to know if food pathogens are present, or what kind of pathogen it is, so it is safest to handle all food safely. That includes storing and handling it safely before and after cooking.

  13. Bobi says:

    Now I’m really confused…

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