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Don’t Wash Your Thanksgiving Turkey, CDC Warns

Nov. 22, 2021

With Thanksgiving almost here, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued tips on the safest way to prepare your turkey.

First of all, you should not wash or rinse your bird. That may seem counterintuitive, but washing the turkey can spread germs and bacteria all over your kitchen.

“Federal food safety advice has recommended against washing turkey or chicken since 2005, but some habits are hard to break,” the CDC says, citing a 2020 survey that found 78% of respondents did rinse or wash their turkeys.

“Old recipes and family cooking traditions may keep this practice going, but it can make you and your family sick. Poultry juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops.”

Next, don’t think about thawing your frozen turkey on the counter. When a turkey is left at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe and may reach “the danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the CDC says.

Instead, thaw the turkey in a container in the refrigerator; in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water (making sure to change the water every half hour); or in the microwave, if you own one big enough to accommodate a turkey.

Other kitchen tips from the CDC:

Keep it clean. Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds after handling turkey. Use a separate cutting board for raw turkey and never place other foods on a plate or cutting board that has held raw turkey. Wash cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water.

Cook your stuffing thoroughly. Whether you cook it inside the turkey or in a casserole dish, use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing hits 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you cook it in the turkey, wait 20 minutes after removing the bird from the oven to take the stuffing out; this allows it to cook more.

Use a food thermometer on your turkey. The thawed bird should be placed in a roasting pan inside an oven set at 325 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, use a food thermometer and make sure it at least 165 degrees at thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Let your turkey sit for 20 minutes before carving.

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