Food Safety experts (including us at USDA) do not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Many bacteria are quite loosely attached and when you rinse these foods the bacteria will be spread around your kitchen.
In fact, research shows that washing meat or poultry in water spreads bacteria throughout the kitchen—onto countertops, other food, towels and you. Water can splash bacteria up to 3 feet surrounding your sink, which can lead to illnesses. We call this cross contamination. Researchers at Drexel University have shown that it is best to move meat and poultry straight from package to pan, since the heat required for cooking will kill any bacteria that may be present.
But what about a whole turkey? USDA does not recommend washing a whole turkey before you cook your Thanksgiving meal. You are likely to spread germs around your kitchen if you do so. The only reason a whole turkey (or any meat or poultry for that matter) should be washed is if it was brined. Thanksgiving cooks who are purchasing a brined turkey, or brining their turkeys at home, must rinse the brine off before the turkey goes into the oven. If you plan on serving a brined turkey this year, here is how to minimize the risk of cross contamination.
If you must rinse the turkey and clean out the cavity, first take the time to remove dishes, dish drainers, dish towels, sponges and other objects from around the sink area. Then cover the area around your sink with paper towels. Place the roasting pan next to the sink, ready to receive the turkey.
Clean the sink with hot soapy water, rinse well, and fill it with a few inches of cold water. Even if the cavity is partially frozen, use cold water to rinse the cavity. Cold water is still warmer than the frozen cavity. Run the water gently to prevent splashing. Make sure the water is coming out the other end of the cavity. If it isn’t, the neck or giblets may still be in there.
And that’s it! No need to scrub or rinse the rest of the turkey. Hold the turkey up to let it drain into the sink and gently place the turkey in the roasting pan. Remove the paper towels, clean the sink and the area around the sink with hot soapy water, and proceed with your preparations.