Don't Wash the Turkey! And Other Food Safety Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

Don't Wash the Turkey! And Other Food Safety Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner
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After toiling away over a hot stove for an entire day, the last thing you want to serve your guests is a side of food poisoning.

To keep the bacteria at bay, NC State University put together a series of videos with simple food safety tips that should help minimize the risk of illness.

We've compiled some of the highlights, but encourage you to watch the full series.


Thawing a frozen turkey in the sink, microwave or counter all come with risks. Bacteria from the turkey can contaminate your sink, which would then need thorough cleaning. Turkeys thawed in the microwave may cook unevenly and should be put in the oven immediately. Counter thawing requires temperature monitoring because the outside of the turkey could begin to get warm while the inside remains frozen. Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator will help it stay at a cool temperature, but may require three to five days depending on the size.

No matter how a frozen turkey is defrosted, make sure you use a dish or pan to contain the juices that will pool as a result. Scissors or knives that are used to cut the wrapping should be washed and sanitized.

Preventing Contamination

Don't wash the turkey!

Washing the turkey is still a fairly common practice, but NCSU professor and food safety specialist Ben Chapman said washing won't get rid of salmonella or campylobacter and could cause bacteria to spread to your sink and surfaces up to three feet away. Chapman said that if you feel you have to clean the surface of the turkey, do so by patting it down with a paper towel that can be immediately disposed of.

Use a separate cutting board and cutlery for cutting raw meat, and fruits and vegetables. As far as wood versus plastic cutting boards, Chapman said they're about the same in terms of harboring germs. Plastic, though, can be placed directly in the dishwasher rather than requiring a wash in the sink, like wood.

Well Done

When checking for doneness, digital thermometers offer a faster and more accurate read than a dial thermometer. Check the temperature in the thickest part of the meat away from the bones. Since turkeys tend to cook unevenly, check the temperature in multiple places. It should hit 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dinner's Over

The longer leftovers stay out on the counter, the more likely bacteria will begin to grow. Put everything in plastic bags, which allows you to press out all the air. Don't worry about letting your mash potatoes cool. Today's refrigerators are able to handle hot foods well.

Bonus Tip!

Cooking grease should never be disposed of down the drain. Grease buildup is one of the biggest causes of clogged pipes. When too many people pour grease down the drain, it builds up in your town or city's sanitation infrastructure, leading to blown pipes and sewer overflows. Grease should be collected in a heavy plastic or glass container, which can be thrown out. Some public and private sanitation providers will collect used cooking grease during the holidays.

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