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To Wash or Not to Wash... Your Turkey?

Posted by Donna Karlsons, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Feb 21, 2017

Washing anything makes it cleaner and safer, right? Not necessarily.

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. This is called cross-contamination, which can make you and your guests very sick.  Washing your hands before and after handling your turkey and its packaging is crucial to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.

Be sure to wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.  This simple, but important step can help keep you and your guests safe from foodborne illness.  If your raw turkey or its juices come in contact with kitchen surfaces, wash the counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water.  For extra protection, surfaces may be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.  Be sure to let those areas dry thoroughly.

The only way to destroy bacteria on your turkey is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.  Some chefs prefer to cook to a higher temperature for flavor and texture. Therefore, you don’t need to wash your turkey, but you will need a food thermometer on Thanksgiving Day. Remember to check the turkey’s temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast to be sure it is free of illness-causing bacteria.

Visit Washing Food: Does It Promote Food Safety? for more information.


Ask Karen, the virtual food safety representative, is available 24/7 at Weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is available at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline will be open from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm Eastern Time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Category/Topic: Health and Safety

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Lee Price
Nov 23, 2013

This is hysterical and just plain dumb. It's common sense to wash the surfaces of your counter top and anything else that comes into contact with a chicken or turkey that you are preparing. But to say don't wash your turkey is just plain stupid. Why would anyone want the juices that from poultry packing to be cooked along with your food particularly if you plan to stuff the bird? When my sister told me about what was being broadcast over her television about not washing the turkey, I could not believe it, but I see it here in print. Do you have adults or people who cook working ask editors in your company, apparently not!

Nov 29, 2013

This has been my husbands job every Thanksgiving morning for the past 26 years and no one got sick. First we clean the sink area, everything goes far away. Places the turkey in the sink, takes off all plastics and starts rinsing in cold water and scrubbing with salt. Then he massages half a bottle of cognac all over and lets that drain off. Places it in the pan and we stuff it. Then I take a bottle of spray disinfectant and clean the sink, counter and everything before using it again. Am I lucky or what?

S. L. Hall
Nov 29, 2013

Who are U, and by what authority do U speak from? R U a Dietician, Doctor, or even a Chef? Probably not. I learned how to carve a turkey, the right way, from watching Martha Stewart on TV. That was a few years ago. Now, she is also saying the same thing about washing any bird. I don't live daily worrying about what is going to make me sick. But, when it comes to caring for guests in my house, then these simple steps will guarantee a good dinner with them, and a good memory in their minds when they DON'T get sick next week. Prevention, even if U don't "Think" that it's necessary, is always the best route to take. If U must error, then lean towards safety. Your body will thank you.

I know that this is all easy to do, and mostly common sense, but don't deride it, since there is a multitude of people who don't have that knowledge yet.

The difference between ignorant and stupid is that the ignorant people simply don't Know any better, the Stupid do, but chose to disregard it.

Which category do U fit in?

BTW, I ate from a Turkey that was prepared by Albertson's(R), and I don't know what their standards are, but it was moist, delicious and easy to cut, (The RIGHT Way,according to Martha Stewart).

Don't throw a soppy wet rag on everybody's Thanksgiving Day.

Don't you find it interesting that, here our Government, is trying to send out warnings, in our, (The People) Favor, and You Rebut them... Ironic, don't you think?

S. L. Hall
Nov 29, 2013

I wanted to say Thank You to the people responsible for making this information possible.

Also a Big KUDOS to Albertson's(R) for their concerted effort towards our moment to Reflect on all of the good Gifts from God this year.

I also believe that however the bird was prepared, Our Praying a blessing over it will make sure that from the GOD Level, it will contain nothing harmful. But, we should do anything possible to care for ourselves as well...once done, then it's in the hands of our Gracious Father.

I hope that you did have a Merry, worry free Thanksgiving Day!

S. L. Hall
Nov 29, 2013

Hi DTF, I don't think that LUCK had anything to do with your healthy dinner. Your Husbands concerted effort towards your healthy enjoyment is to credit. He has been doing all of the right things for 26 years, and nothing has gone wrong yet. Give him another 26 years, and I'm sure that He will take care of you in this fashion every year. You are fortunate to have him!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope your day together was special. You might consider rinsing the bird with Cognac as well, this will clean and flavor the inside before it gets stuffed. The bacteria on the outside is more concentrated on the inside. Besides, if you do enjoy the flavor of Cognac, then rinsing the inside won't hurt a thing, and may add something to your overall delight.


S. L. Hall
Nov 29, 2013

Hi Mr. Price, While reading your post again, it reminded me of the first time I allowed my (#1) wife cook everything for Thanksgiving...She insisted on "Serving" Me, as a surprise that day.

Well, she didn't know that there was a Giblet pack inside, so she didn't feel for it, but instead, she stuffed the bird over top, and behind the pack. She did say that she always saw more stuffing come out of the same size turkey, but I didn't comment. I knew something was going wrong, but she didn't want any help from me, so I stayed away from the kitchen. It was found when she was serving up the meal.

She wasn't stupid, even though she felt like it. She just didn't know. Her Mother didn't teach anything to her about cooking, cleaning or other life skills, which are important to the success/happiness of any one person or family.

She didn't fail with my "Surprise Dinner", her mother failed to teach her how to do it. "Common Sense" is a thing learned, taught or observed, and not a Birth Right.

All people are not as smart or wise as us, so try not to dump on anybody who is only attempting to help, and expecting nothing in return.

Think about this, it's nothing like "Obummer Care", we are not FORCED to do it against our will. It's an information system that only suggests. If we decide to reject it, that's up to the individual reader. We can also unsubscribe too.

Yea, some people already know this information, or have a Better Way, which qualifies to the end point. But this is disseminated to assist the billions who don't know what they are doing in the kitchen.

Young couples must rely on what was taught or learned in various ways, but they struggle with many of the every day issues, because they simply don't know.

I am particularly thankful for this arm of government that has been formulated for one provide meaningful safety information towards bettering our health and daily living.

To me, some of it may be foolish...then I chose to delete it, no foul / no error.

I appreciate everybody who is behind providing this bit of wisdom, and applaud them.

Mr. Price, I hope that you don't think that my reply's purpose is to ridicule or mock you. It's not, it's just my positive thoughts With your post, not condemning it.

Thank you for your input, I do hope to hear more from you in future posts.

A common Human...with a little common sense, but still found wanting.

S. L. Hall
Nov 29, 2013

Oh, Mr. Price, my first reply to you @ 3:04PM AZ time was very harsh.

I am sorry for losing it, and trashing you without good cause. In reality, there is no "Good" cause for it. Please absolve me.

The mention of Martha Stewart was incomplete; I should also say that I used to totally rout the bird into pieces when attempting to carve it, until I saw that show.

I particularly try to evade her broadcast, but I saw this as fascinating, and found that it did benefit my ability to perform in a mostly crumb-free mode. The end results are, everybody has thin sliced left over’s to make delicious sandwiches later on.

Yet again, I cultured something, even though I didn't fancy watching her series.

Once more, I'm regretful for my insults; my only hope is that the team here will edit out the debris.

Thank you,


Nov 10, 2014

Every scientific study says not to wash the bird.

james brown
Aug 15, 2015

remove the bird from the bag
remove the innards
tip the bird (neck up) & LET THE JUICES RUN OUT (LEE)
When you wash the bird, you spread what bacteria there is to other parts of the bird! Temperature alone kills bacteria. Do yourself a favor...cook the stuffing separately, and moisten/flavor it with the cooked juices from the pan.

Nov 23, 2016

So the way I'm seeing things here is not to worry about the bacteria, just make sure every part of the meat is at a temperature of at least 165 degrees, to kill the bacteria. So if there be any bacteria in or on the meat it will be killed if cooked to a temperature above 165 degrees f.

So why tell people not to thaw out at room temperature, as cooking the meat to above 165 degrees will kill the bacteria. So thawing out room temperature or lukewarm warm water will not be of great harm as long as the meat is cooked at or above 165 degrees????
So you may also wash very carefully, making sure nothing gets crossed contaminated, just make sure the meat is cooked to at or above 165 degrees???

Nov 24, 2016

Thank you James for being brief and right to the point.

Ben Weaver
Nov 29, 2016

@Paul - there are some bacteria that, if allowed to multiply, produce toxins that cannot be killed by cooking. Also, if a food is allowed to sit out long enough the numbers of bacteria may become so great that you wouldn’t be able to kill them all. There is no way to know if food pathogens are present, or what kind of pathogen it is, so it is safest to handle all food safely. That includes storing and handling it safely before and after cooking.

Dec 23, 2016

Now I'm really confused...

Nov 24, 2017

Bobi... I like your response the best!!! I'm right there with you. Half say wash that bird & the other half say Don't do it fool!!

Michael Orchard, dvm, md
Nov 25, 2017

I would be very interested in seeing the study results that led to the conclusions and recommendations that are currently being made in regards to not washing a turkey prior to cooking. Is there a way for me to see the data and results of those studies? It may or may not be true that no one should wash a turkey at home, but it also may be that there is a proper way to wash a turkey. It also may be that there have (or have not) been outcome studies in relation to whether people become ill more often if they do or do not wash their turkey before cooking. It also may be that the standards and methods for raising and slaughtering turkeys are much better than they were 30-50 years ago, and that the gross contamination that can occur in the processing of turkeys is so rare that the likelihood of washing a turkey at some being useful really is not worth the risk no matter how it is washed in the absence of gross contamination. Regardless, I am very interested in seeing the information upon with the current recommendations to not wash the turkey are based.

Michael Orchard, Dvm, MD (Bs in microbiology with work experience in both food science and pathogenic microbiology.)

Ben Weaver
Nov 27, 2017

@Michael Orchard - USDA has always advised consumers that washing meat and poultry is not safe due to the risks of cross-contamination. Our fact sheet Washing Food: Does it Promote Food Safety? was written back in the 1990’s and our research at that time showed that there are some bacteria that, no matter how many times you rinse poultry, are so tightly attached that they will not be removed, while other pathogens are loosely attached and will therefore splash around your kitchen. Unfortunately we no longer have the references.

A more recent study done by Drexel University cites more current research: (PDF, 806 KB)

Nov 14, 2018

Since im not suppose to wash the turkey can I wipe it down. With a wet paper towel?

Ben Weaver
Nov 14, 2018

@Bree - Yes, using a disposable paper towel to get rid of excess moisture would be okay. It’s important to note this does not destroy bacteria. Cooking the bird to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F is the only way to destroy any possible bacteria.

Nov 16, 2018

If u don’t rinse the turkey can u stuff it?

Ben Weaver
Nov 16, 2018

@Susan - thank you for your comment. For optimal safety and uniform doneness, we recommend to cook stuffing separately. However, if stuffing a turkey, we do not recommend to rinse the turkey prior to cooking/stuffing. It's essential to use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.

Sarah Brathwaite
Nov 19, 2018

I always thaw out and washed my turkey, now I am hearing I should never wash my turkey and thaw out my turkey in fridge I been doing it wrong all these years I have

David Brown
Nov 19, 2018

Always rinse off poultry!! Remember its the toxins these types of bacteria leave behind that can sicken you, not to mention the raw fecal matter that can be on poultry, cooking will not remove that. If you go by this logic you should never take a shower because you might splash dirt on the shower wall. Do you realize how dangerous these instructions are?

David Brown
Nov 19, 2018

Look on the Department of Health and Human Services for the safe instruction set on how to handle raw fish and poultry. Vegans should not be allowed to write this type of article.

Nov 20, 2018

Do you rinse a turkey breast before cooking

Ben Weaver
Nov 26, 2018

@Richard - thank you for your comment. No, for optimum safety we do not recommend to rinse poultry prior to cooking. Any possible bacteria that may be present will be destroyed by cooking to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a food thermometer. We hope this helps.

Nov 21, 2018

What about the giblets?
Can I cook them without rinsing first?

Ben Weaver
Nov 26, 2018

@Linda - thank you for your comment. Yes, it is perfectly safe to cook the giblets without rinsing first. Like the turkey, these should reach 165°F for safety.

John chesna
Oct 27, 2019

Is it unsafe to stuff a raw turkey, and leave it in the fridge totaly stuffed for 6 hrs. Before cooking it ? And should it be cooked at higher temp because of the stuffing

Ben Weaver
Oct 29, 2019

@John chesna - thank you for your comment. Yes, stuffing a raw turkey ahead of time to refrigerate and cook later is unsafe and should not be done. You should only stuff the bird right before cooking for safety. If stuffing is prepared ahead of time, it must be cooked immediately. You may cook a stuffed bird at an oven temperature set no lower than 325°F. To find more information on stuffing, visit our webpage: Stuffing and Food Safety.

Aileen edwards
Nov 27, 2019

What do I do re the giblets. Can I rinse them?

Nov 28, 2019

I have a six pound turkey breast and I'm going to stuff it. Told to bake 30 mins at 425 then drop to 325 degrees for duration time. The stuffing will be a mound and the breast will cover it. Is this ok?

Also, should I wash the breast first? Maybe do in laundry room sink? Hearing yes and no's and don't know what to do now.

Thanks, Paula