Food Safety

Don't Wash the Turkey


Wash hands and surfaces, not the turkey. Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking is not recommended, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces.

Some consumers think washing removes bacteria and makes their meat or poultry safe. However, some of the bacteria are so tightly bound that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed. But there are other types of bacteria that can be easily washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen.

Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead to foodborne illness (a.k.a. food poisoning). Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing meat before cooking is not necessary.

Using a food thermometer is the only sure way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria. Cook all raw poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer before removing from the heat source.

person washing hands before cooking
Hand-Washing and Cross-Contamination

Hand washing after handling raw meat or poultry or its packaging is a necessity because anything you touch afterwards could become contaminated. This is called cross-contamination. Cross contamination can happen when bacteria and viruses are transferred from a contaminated surface to one which is not contaminated. In other words, you could become ill by picking up a piece of fruit and eating with unwashed hands after handling raw meat or poultry.

  • Wash hands 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, handling pets or any time hands become contaminated.
  • It is important to prevent cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry juices by washing counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water. For extra protection, you may sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
  • Packaging materials from raw meat or poultry also can cause cross-contamination. Never reuse them with other food items. These and other disposable packaging materials, such as foam meat trays, egg cartons, or plastic wraps, should be discarded.
Need help?

Call the Turkey Safety Hotline: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).