The crowning jewel of many Thanksgiving tables is often the turkey — the bird that has those in the kitchen stressed about how to cook it to perfection. Yet many are still making a crucial error that can affect the health and safety of holiday guests.
A 2020 survey found that 78% of people wash or rinse their turkey in an effort to clean it before cooking. This is a major mistake, experts say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not washing your turkey before cooking it: Doing so can cause the raw juices from the bird to contaminate your countertops, utensils and other foods, and that can make you sick.
A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture “found 60% of kitchen sinks were contaminated with germs” after people washed their poultry. The USDA also found one in four people who wash poultry will cross-contaminate other food being cooked.
“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,” the USDA says.
Raw turkey can contaminate anything it touches with bacteria, so make sure to scrub your hands clean with soap and warm water for 20 seconds after handling, the USDA says.
While food safety advice has recommended against doing so since 2005, washing turkey is an old practice that can be hard to kick, experts say.
However if you do end up washing your turkey against CDC and USDA recommendations, your sink must be fully sanitized afterward. Rub down the sink, as well as all cutting boards and countertops, with hot water and soap. Then, make sure to sanitize them with a cleaning solution. The USDA says you can make one at home with one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach and one gallon of water.
The CDC recommends following the four major rules to food safety to ensure you and your loved ones are safe: clean (your hands and surfaces), separate raw and cooked foods, cook properly and chill (refrigerate promptly).