No Need to Wash Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Posted: November 22, 2014

Typically, Americans associate washing things to being clean. We wash our clothes, cars, dishes, and bodies...

  So it’s understandable that many people think that washing their Thanksgiving turkey makes it cleaner and safer to eat. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not recommend washing raw poultry and other meals before cooking because bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces.

     When bacteria from raw meat and poultry transfer to other ready-to-eat foods, utensils, or surfaces, it’s called cross contamination. So not washing the Thanksgiving turkey will prevent this from happening. It’s important to note that some bacteria do not wash off the bird no matter how long or often you wash it. Cooking it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. kills bacteria so washing turkey is not necessary and just increases the risk for cross contamination.

     To prevent cross contamination, follow these tips from the USDA:


  • When shopping, put packages of raw meat, poultry and seafood into plastic bags and keep them separated from other food in your shopping cart. It is also a good idea to separate these foods from other foods when checking out and packing your grocery bags.
  • When arriving home from the supermarket, refrigerate perishable foods immediately. Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in sealed plastic bags to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Wash hands after handling raw meat or poultry or its packaging. Wash with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, tending to a sick person, blowing your nose, sneezing and coughing, and handling pets.
  • Clean up meat and poultry juice spills immediately so the raw product does not contaminate the cooked or ready-to-eat product. Use hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. Wash cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine. Clean surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water, rinse and sanitize using a solution of one tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to one gallon of lukewarm water.
  • When using cutting boards, use a separate board for fresh produce and another board exclusively for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, replace them.
  • Never reuse packaging from meat, poultry and eggs for other foods or other uses. Disposable packag¬ing materials, such as foam meat trays, egg cartons, or plastic wraps, should be discarded since bacteria can remain on them even after washing.

     For information on cooking a turkey and food safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Extension in Lackawanna County.

Contact Information

Karen Thomas
  • Extension Educator, Food, Families & Health
Phone: 570-963-6842