Don't wash the turkey! (...and other Thanksgiving food prep safety tips)

Preparing for your big Thanksgiving feast? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Janell Goodwin shared these tips on how to safely handle your turkey and all the trimmings:

1. Clean everything BUT the turkey
Wash your hands before handling any food. Also, wash all food prep surfaces (like cutting boards) with hot, soapy water before going on to the next item. Wash all fruits and vegetables - but DON'T WASH THE TURKEY!

"No! Do not wash your turkey. I know grandma tells you, 'Wash that turkey. Cut off that fat' but you do not want to do that. That just spreads bacteria," Goodwin said.

2. Separate
Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another. Cutting out cross-contamination is important. Make sure to keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood (and their juices) away from foods that will not be cooked. Do this while shopping, storing and preparing foods.

Also, consider using one cutting board for foods that will be cooked and another one for those that will not.

3. Cook to the right temperature
You know food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.

Don't use color to determine if your food is done. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165ºF, too.

Bring sauces, gravy and soups to a roaring boil when reheating. Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, and don't eat raw cookie dough!

"A fresh turkey lasts about two days in the fridge," Goodwin added. Tuesday is the day to buy a fresh Thanksgiving turkey, if you're shopping the week of.

4. Chill food fast
Always try to refrigerate foods quickly. Harmful bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours inside a refrigerator at or below 40ºF. That includes pumpkin pie!

Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave. Also, make sure you allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.

Leftovers should be used within three to four days and when in doubt, throw it out!


The FDA Food Information Line
1-888-SAFEFOOD (1-888-723-3366)

The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
TTY 1-800-256-7072