Grocery shopping and recipe preparations may be well underway ahead of Thanksgiving, but several health agencies have banded together to deliver one clear rule before the holiday: Don’t wash the turkey before cooking it.
“You can’t wash off bacteria with water, and rinsing out the turkey risks splashing its juices all over the sink,” Amy Keating, R.D., a Consumer Reporters nutritionist, said in a food safety memo last week.
Experts instead recommend opening the plastic wrap and draining any liquid into the sink before throwing the packaging out. They then suggest patting the turkey dry with paper towels, and washing your hands and utensils thoroughly with hot water and soap when done.
According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, washing raw poultry — and even beef, pork, lamb or veal — before cooking is not recommended because bacteria in the raw meat and juices can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces.
Some of the bacteria are so tightly attached to the meat that they cannot be removed with washing. There’s also the risk of failing to clean all surfaces of the kitchen where the bacteria has spread, leaving open the possibility for cross-contamination.
A recent study conducted by the USDA found that 60 percent of sinks were contaminated after handling raw turkey in the sink, meaning that if you choose to prepare it in the sink, it is necessary to fully clean and sanitize the area before proceeding with other food prep work.
The food safety advice, which also includes tips on how to safely thaw a turkey and recommendations that stuffing be baked outside the bird, is sure to divide the internet just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did back in May when it tweeted for people to stop washing chicken.
“If your mother did and your grandmother did it, and suddenly (the government) says not to wash your turkey, you may take some time to adjust,” Drusilla Banks, a University of Illinois Extension food sanitation instructor, told The Associated Press.
USDA food safety experts will also be on-hand to answer any other questions from first-time chefs and seasoned pros through its USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854, which will be taking calls from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving Day.