What? Washing your Thanksgiving turkey could spread germs

National News

FILE – This Nov. 2, 2009, file photo shows a Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. Food safety experts say raw turkeys shouldn’t be rinsed, since that can spread harmful bacteria. Cooking should kill any germs. But bacteria can still spread in other ways, so washing and sanitizing hands and surfaces is still important. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Go ahead and rinse your cranberries, potatoes and green beans. But food experts say don’t — repeat don’t — wash the turkey before popping it in the oven on Thanksgiving Day.

They say that could spread the germs lurking on your turkey in the kitchen sink or nearby food. But it’s been a challenge trying to convince cooks to stop rinsing off raw poultry.

“If your mother did it and your grandmother did it, and suddenly the (government) says not to wash your turkey, you may take some time to adjust,” said Drusilla Banks, who teaches food sanitation for the University of Illinois Extension.

Germs that can make people sick are common in the guts of healthy poultry and are legally allowed to be on raw turkey and chicken. The assumption is that nobody eats their poultry rare, and that thorough cooking will kill the bacteria.

So it’s possible that two common causes of food poisoning — salmonella and campylobacter — are on the turkey, said Mindy Brashears, a food safety official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The do-not-wash raw poultry advice from the USDA is relatively new and perhaps hasn’t caught on because it goes against the ingrained belief that washing makes things clean, said Banks.

Participants in a food safety study offered their own rationale: “If it’s still slimy — I’m not sure what that is. It just feels good to wash it,” said one. Another said: “My grandmother taught me that. She just said to wash all your food because there’s no telling where it’s been before it got in the pack.”

Benjamin Chapman, a study author and food safety expert at North Carolina State University, said the instinct to wash raw poultry goes back at least decades when people relied more on visual cues to spot problems with poultry. TV chef Julia Child was among those who said washing chicken was “just the safer thing to do” before experts began advising against it.

But food prep is a juggling act, and germs from poultry can be spread even if it’s not washed, especially when birds are removed from packaging. It’s why washing and sanitizing hands, utensils and surfaces are even more important.

The USDA-funded study underscores that point.

Researchers sprayed raw chicken with a harmless strain of E. coli and watched volunteer cooks at test kitchens. Among those who washed their raw chicken, about a quarter ended up spreading the bacteria to their lettuce. But even some of those who did not rinse the chicken got germs on the lettuce.

There are other opportunities for germs to survive and thrive on turkeys: thawing and cooking.

For thawing, experts say frozen birds shouldn’t be left out on counters since germs can start multiplying on the outer parts that defrost first. They instead recommend thawing in fridges, cold water or in microwaves. You can also cook a frozen turkey, but it will take a lot longer.

And to ensure a bird is thoroughly cooked, they say to use a thermometer to check that the deepest and thickest parts of it have reached 165 degrees.

Even after the meal is cooked, you aren’t out of the danger zone. To keep turkey and other leftovers safe, experts say they should be refrigerated after two hours.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Recent Videos

Mandan Boys Basketball

Thumbnail for the video titled "Mandan Boys Basketball"

KX Storm Team Evening #OneMinuteForecast 12/11

Thumbnail for the video titled "KX Storm Team Evening #OneMinuteForecast 12/11"

Berthold Elementary students shop for a purpose

Thumbnail for the video titled "Berthold Elementary students shop for a purpose"

Watford Safety

Thumbnail for the video titled "Watford Safety"

Boys Basketball

Thumbnail for the video titled "Boys Basketball"

Wrestling

Thumbnail for the video titled "Wrestling"

Hazen-Beulah

Thumbnail for the video titled "Hazen-Beulah"

Naughty Elf

Thumbnail for the video titled "Naughty Elf"

Silent Auction

Thumbnail for the video titled "Silent Auction"

School Improvement

Thumbnail for the video titled "School Improvement"

Wreaths

Thumbnail for the video titled "Wreaths"

Holiday Mail

Thumbnail for the video titled "Holiday Mail"

YHF

Thumbnail for the video titled "YHF"

Wettest Fall

Thumbnail for the video titled "Wettest Fall"

KX Storm Team #OneMinuteForecast w/Tom Schrader 12/11

Thumbnail for the video titled "KX Storm Team #OneMinuteForecast w/Tom Schrader 12/11"

Were The Wind Chills Really Colder When We Were Kids?

Thumbnail for the video titled "Were The Wind Chills Really Colder When We Were Kids?"

Amber's Wednesday Morning One Minute Forecast 12-11

Thumbnail for the video titled "Amber's Wednesday Morning One Minute Forecast 12-11"

Another Round Of Cold Air With Snow Moving In Later Today

Thumbnail for the video titled "Another Round Of Cold Air With Snow Moving In Later Today"

ESPORTS UPDATE

Thumbnail for the video titled "ESPORTS UPDATE"

Bismarck-Mandan boys basketball

Thumbnail for the video titled "Bismarck-Mandan boys basketball"
More Video

KX News Trending Stories

Don't Miss

Daily Pledge

More Daily Pledge