Don’t Wash Your Turkey Today

More than 45 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving Day. Because the Thanksgiving meal is by far the largest and often the most stressful meal many consumers prepare all year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is available with tips and resources to help make this Thanksgiving safe and stress-free.

“Turkey and other meat and poultry may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter that can lead to serious foodborne illness,” said acting FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker. “By properly handling and cooking your turkey, you can avoid these harmful pathogens and ensure your family has a safe and healthy Thanksgiving feast.”

Begin by following these five steps:

Wash your hands, but not your turkey

Washing your hands before cooking is the simplest way to stop the spread of bacteria, while washing your turkey is the easiest way to spread bacteria all over your kitchen. According to the 2016 Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Survey, 68 percent of consumers wash poultry in the kitchen sink, which is not recommended by the USDA. Research shows that washing meat or poultry can splash bacteria around your kitchen by up to 3 feet, contaminating countertops, towels and other food. Washing doesn’t remove bacteria from the bird. Only cooking the turkey to the correct internal temperature will ensure all bacteria are killed.

The exception to this rule is brining. When rinsing brine off of a turkey, be sure to remove all other food or objects from the sink, layer the area with paper towels and use a slow stream of water to avoid splashing.

To stuff or not to stuff

For optimal food safety, do not stuff the turkey. Even if the turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature, the stuffing inside may not have reached a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria. It is best to cook the stuffing in a separate dish.

Take the temperature of the bird

Although there are various ways to cook a turkey, the only way to avoid foodborne illness is to make sure it is cooked to the correct internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. Take the bird’s temperature in three areas — the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh — make sure all three locations reach 165ºF. If one of those locations does not register at 165ºF, then continue cooking until all three locations reach the correct internal temperature.

Follow the two-hour rule

Perishable foods should not be left on the table or countertops for longer than two hours. After two hours, food falls into the Danger Zone, temperatures between 40-140ºF, where bacteria can rapidly multiply. If that food is then eaten, your guests could get sick. Cut turkey into smaller slices and refrigerate along with other perishable items, such as potatoes, gravy and vegetables. Leftovers should stay safe in the refrigerator for four days.

When in doubt call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline

If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert. You can also chat live at, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET.

Consumers with food safety questions can visit to learn more about how to safely select, thaw and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter, @USDAFoodSafety, or on Facebook, at


  1. For many years the liberal use of bleach has a time honored place in most kitchens preventing us from killing our invited guest from food poisoning.
    I’ve recently been criticized for being “old school” but despite the above information, we’ll continue to wash away the excessive bacteria and other debris from our turkey prior to committing it to the oven. And as in all previous years we’ll bleach the place down and get to work on everything else.
    As for the stuffing, I’ve never been a big fan of a stuffed bird. It all too often comes out unevenly cooked, soggy or burnt. So I far prefer it in a separate pan. I’ll incorporate good old stovetop stuffing, cooked course breakfast pork sausage and roasted chestnuts into the stuffing mix.

    The Oracle

  2. Thanks ADI I never would have thought about washing my Hands.

    Isn’t America Great? i am sooo Grateful my family lives here.

  3. I would add having a healthy food processing system – operated by the USDA – is one of the things to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving day – the numbers and problems are very low vs the huge numbers of birds provided. The inspection system works very well compared to that of many nations. I’ve had and operated a USDA inspected planet – the processes and inspections are very good – precise – ongoing review of all elements from the product to the process – the nation enjoys a healthy food source… and we enjoy a great meal! Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be washing my bird.. it’s been that way for as long as I can remember – today will be another one of those.

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