Why you should never wash your turkey

Avoid Washing Your Turkey, for Thanksgiving Dinner. There are a few ways to cook a turkey, but many health agencies warn not to wash it beforehand. Instead, they say drain liquid from the packaging and then pat the turkey down with paper towels. Be sure to also throw the packaging out after removing the turkey. When done with preparation, wash your hands with hot water and soap. Besides turkey, the USDA recommends not washing other types of raw meat before cooking. This includes beef, pork and poultry. The bacteria in raw meat and its juices is why the USDA recommends to avoid washing. Doing so risks the bacteria spreading to other food items and utensils. You can’t wash off bacteria with water, and rinsing out the turkey risks splashing its juices all over the sink, Consumer Reporters nutritionist Amy Keating, R.D., via food safety memo

Did you know that rinsing a raw turkey before placing it in the oven can do more harm than good?

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In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, washing that raw turkey can actually lead to cross-contamination and make you and your Thanksgiving guests quite sick.

"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," USDA officials warn.

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How to safely handle your raw turkey this Thanksgiving:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling it.
  • Cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and check temperatures in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, plus the thickest part of the breast before serving.
  • If you notice raw turkey or turkey juice on your kitchen surfaces, wash the surfaces with hot, soapy water. You can also use a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

According to Good Housekeeping, this rule should apply to all raw poultry, not just turkey.

Associate food editor Cathy Lo recommends patting raw poultry dry with paper towels instead.

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