Family and Consumer Sciences Education: Wash Your Hands, Not the Turkey


   Have you been taught to wash your turkey bird before cooking? That’s old school and unsafe according to University of Tennessee Extension’s Janie Burney, a nutrition specialist. The only reason you should wash a raw turkey is when it is brined. And then, you should be careful not to splash water.

   By washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking you risk spreading bacteria from the raw meat and juices to other foods, utensils and surfaces. Water will splash, says Burney, and it is difficult to tell where it will land. Therefore, it is difficult to be sure you clean contaminated areas thoroughly.

   The process of transferring bacteria and viruses from your food, hands, surfaces and utensils is called cross-contamination. In addition to not washing your turkey, this can be prevented by washing your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Also, wash the counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water. For extra protection, you can mix one tablespoon of unscented bleach in one gallon of water and apply to counter tops and sinks after cleaning with soap and water.

   You can also prevent cross-contamination by disposing of plastic wrapping. Avoid reusing them, says Burney, since this can spread bacteria.

   What do you do with a package of giblets (heart, neck, gizzards and liver) that comes in the cavity of the turkey? Whether or not you decide to use the giblets, they should be removed before cooking the turkey. Many people use the giblets to make a giblet gravy. Simply simmer with herbs and vegetables to make a flavorful stock. Use the stock, pan drippings, flour and cream to make a gravy. Add chopped giblets to the gravy or not depending on your preference.

   The only way to be sure you kill bacteria on your raw turkey is to cook it to a temperature of 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to be sure you have reached this safe temperature. Then, enjoy your turkey.

Source: UT Extension