Should You Wash Your Turkey? Here’s What You Need to Know

The age old question, "should you wash your turkey?" is answered. Washing your turkey before cooking is a common mistake that could be dangerous.

Preparing the ingredients for your Thanksgiving feast is an hours-long process. You’ll want to scrub potatoes, soak the broccoli in salt water and re-wash the pre-washed lettuce. Because washing fruits and vegetables is the right way to avoid unwelcome bacteria, it only makes sense that you should wash your turkey as well, right?

It turns out washing your turkey is not the proper way to avoid bacteria. In fact, it actually makes the situation a whole lot worse.

Why Is Washing a Turkey So Dangerous?

It may seem like a clean process, but washing a 15-pound turkey causes a lot of splashing near the kitchen sink. The backsplash coming off the turkey could mean contamination of food that will be placed on the counter later.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), any raw poultry can cross-contaminate other food with harmful bacteria and potentially cause food poisoning.

How to Prep Turkey Safely

Your Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t have to put the family at risk. It’s important to make sure your turkey is handled safely. The USDA makes the following recommendations:

  • Disinfect your countertops with hot, soapy water before you prep the bird. Learn how to clean granite countertops.
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey. Use this expert-recommended hand-washing technique.
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw turkey and follow guidelines for cutting board care.
  • Remove the giblets from the bird and pat the cavity dry with paper towels.
  • Check for any feather quills that may still be connected to the turkey’s skin and pluck them out.
  • Never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate, countertop or other surface that previously held raw turkey.
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing the bird.

It’s also smart to keep raw turkey away from other foods you are buying at the grocery store, and keep it separate from other foods when defrosting in the refrigerator. If you’re still itching to clean your turkey before roasting it, patting it dry with paper towels will also work.

How to Cook Turkey Safely

It’s simple—cooking the turkey to the right temperature is the best way to keep people safe from food poisoning. Use a meat thermometer to make sure turkey is cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F, which is high enough to kill the germs that would make people sick.

Make sure you test the turkey at its thickest part (usually the thigh), and if the bird is not quite cooked, make sure you wash your meat thermometer in hot, soapy water before testing again.

Still have questions about the bird? Follow our step-by-step guide to cooking a turkey!

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Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.