Let's Talk Turkey

With infection control in the hot seat this holiday season - let's not forget to pay special attention to preventing foodborne illness!

Turkey School 101:

Do not wash your bird. According to a recent Food Safety Survey, conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, 68% of the public washes whole turkey before cooking it. USDA does not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, frying or grilling) meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria that may be present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary.


Keep your turkey in the fridge. Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because the turkey will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. It will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to your microwave’s owner’s manual. Cold water and microwave thawing can also be used if your bird did not entirely defrost in the refrigerator.


Have your thermometer ready! The only way to determine if a turkey — or any meat, poultry or seafood — is completely cooked is to check its internal temperature with a food thermometer. A whole turkey should be checked in three locations:

  • the innermost part of the thigh;
  • the innermost part of the wing; and
  • the thickest part of the breast.

Your thermometer should register 165° F in all three of these places. The juices rarely run clear at this temperature, and when they do the bird is often overcooked. Using the food thermometer is the best way to ensure your turkey is cooked, but not overdone.


Want additional food safety tips?
If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert. The Hotline receives more than 80,000 calls yearly. This toll-free telephone service, which began July 1, 1985, helps prevent foodborne illness by answering questions about the safe storage, handling, and preparation of meat, poultry, and egg products.

Visit https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/informational/askkaren for additional help.

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