The Truth About Washing Your Turkey: When It’s Safe, and When It’s Not

Prepping for Thanksgiving is no easy feat. It takes weeks to prepare for the annual feast, from battling lines as long as those at an amusement park to decorating your front porch with pumpkins and rolling out pie crust after pie crust after pie crust. And at the center of it all—literally—is the turkey. Is it necessary to clean a turkey before cooking it? There are as many theories regarding whether or not you should rinse the bird as there are recipes for roast turkey. Do you wet brine or dry brine? Stuff the bird with cornbread or lemons and herbs? Roast the bird traditionally or attempt deep-frying?

For years, many of us have held onto the belief that washing our turkeys before cooking them is essential for food safety. However, the truth is a little more nuanced. Let’s dive into the world of turkey hygiene and uncover the facts about washing your bird.

The No-Wash Zone: Why Rinsing Your Turkey Can Be Risky

Contrary to popular belief, washing your turkey doesn’t actually make it safer. In fact, it can increase your risk of foodborne illness. Here’s why:

  • Bacteria Spread: Washing your turkey can splash bacteria-laden water onto surrounding surfaces, contaminating your kitchen and potentially other foods. This cross-contamination can lead to food poisoning.
  • Impossible to Wash Away All Bacteria: Even the most vigorous washing won’t eliminate all bacteria from the turkey’s surface. Cooking the turkey to a safe internal temperature of 165°F is the only way to ensure complete bacterial elimination.
  • False Sense of Security: Washing your turkey might give you a false sense of security, leading to less careful handling and potentially increasing the risk of contamination.

The One Exception: When Washing Your Turkey Is Necessary

While washing your turkey is generally not recommended, there is one exception: after brining. Brining involves soaking the turkey in a salt-water solution, which can leave behind a salty residue. In this case, rinsing the turkey after brining helps remove excess salt and ensure a more balanced flavor.

Safety Tips for Washing Your Brined Turkey

If you’re washing your brined turkey, follow these precautions to minimize the risk of cross-contamination:

  1. Clean Workspace: Prepare your workspace by thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the sink and surrounding areas. Remove any unnecessary items from the countertop.
  2. Cold Water Rinse: Use cold water to rinse the turkey, as hot water can promote bacterial growth.
  3. Proper Handling: Hold the turkey upright over the sink to allow the water to drain effectively from the cavity.
  4. Thorough Cleaning: After rinsing the turkey, thoroughly clean and sanitize the sink and surrounding areas again.
  5. Handwashing: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after handling the turkey.

The Bottom Line: Cook, Don’t Wash

Remember, the safest way to handle your turkey is to cook it thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F. This will eliminate any harmful bacteria and ensure a delicious, safe meal for you and your loved ones So, skip the washing and focus on proper cooking techniques for a stress-free and enjoyable Thanksgiving feast.

Should You Rinse a Turkey?

In short, no. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), rinsing a raw turkey in the kitchen sink can lead to the spread of bacteria on countertops, nearby food, and other surfaces, which can cause cross-contamination. The contaminated water can spray as far as three feet away, making it nearly impossible to disinfect every single object within reach.

Although washing a turkey can help remove some of its bacteria, cooking it is the best—and really only—way to guarantee that all bacteria and foodborne pathogens are eliminated. The USDA states that “any bacteria will be killed when turkey is cooked to the proper internal temperature of 165ºF, eliminating the need for washing.” ” Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh to check the temperature. We advise taking the bird out of the oven at 160°F to prevent overcooking the meat for a juicy, moist bird because the temperature will rise while the bird rests before carving.

How to Clean a Turkey

Cleaning a raw turkey with soap and hot water is not necessary—in fact, it’s usually not a good idea. Some recipes may call for rinsing a salty dry brine off a turkey before roasting it. The USDA advises “removing any other food or objects from the sink, covering the area with paper towels, and using a slow stream of water to prevent splashing” when washing the brine off of a turkey. But we also advise against doing this because it will lessen the flavor of the brined turkey and keep the skin from becoming crispy and golden brown in the oven.

There are really only two things you absolutely need to do to clean a turkey. First, pat the skin dry with paper towels to remove any excess seasoning or moisture. Secondly, before stuffing and roasting the bird as instructed in the recipe, remember to remove the neck, giblets, and any other turkey parts from the inside of the front and back cavities. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below 52 Days of Thanksgiving 52 Days of Thanksgiving. Do you wash your turkey in the kitchen sink before cooking it?

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What happens if you don’t rinse a turkey after brine?


What happens if you don’t rinse a turkey?

Wash your hands, but not the turkey! 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.

Can you cook a turkey without washing it?

Never wash your turkey or other poultry – this is because harmful bacteria can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Thorough cooking is the only way to destroy any harmful bacteria.

Do you rinse a turkey after you rinse it?

Pat It Dry Use paper towels and get the skin “as dry as possible” before doing anything else. And if you’re wondering, no—you don’t need to rinse the bird, whether it’s been dry-brined or wet-brined, before adding more seasoning and roasting.

Can bacteria be cooked out of turkey?

Cooking the turkey to a safe temperature – 165 F or hotter – kills bacteria on the surface of the turkey. Live turkeys contain a diverse array of bacteria and other organisms on their feathers, skin, feet and intestinal tract.

Do I need to rinse the inside of a Turkey?

Just like with the outside of a turkey, there’s no need to rinse the cavity. All you need to worry about is removing the neck and giblets. Now, if you’re working with a brined bird, you will need to rinse the inside. Ree Drummond likes to rinse the inside and outside of her turkey under a running faucet with cold water for several minutes.

Should you wash your Turkey before cooking?

Good kitchen hygiene is always important. You should wash your hands before you start cooking and after handling raw meat. But washing your turkey on Thanksgiving morning? Not so fast. You can actually cause more harm than good. Here’s why you should never rinse your turkey — and how to safely prepare your raw bird.

How do you sanitize raw turkey?

The USDA recommends washing any surfaces that come in contact with raw turkey or its juices, like your sink and countertops, with “hot, soapy water.” The federal agency also says you can sanitize surfaces “with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.”

What should I do if a Turkey is not cooked?

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.

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