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Shelly Barnes: Wash your hands, not the turkey

Shelly Barnes • Updated Dec 19, 2017 at 11:15 PM

Christmas is almost here. You’ve checked everything off your list. You’ve got the ham and the turkey, and you’ve mentally started planning out that delectable and familiar menu everyone seems to crave this time of year. Is food safety on your list? It should be No. 1. 

Have you been taught to wash your turkey bird before cooking? That’s old school and unsafe according to University of Tennessee Extension’s Janie Burney, a nutrition specialist. The only reason you should wash a raw turkey is when it is brined. And then, you should be careful not to splash water.

By washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking you risk spreading bacteria from the raw meat and juices to other foods, utensils and surfaces. Water will splash, said Burney, and it is difficult to tell where it will land. Therefore, it is difficult to be sure you clean contaminated areas thoroughly.

The process of transferring bacteria and viruses from your food, hands, surfaces and utensils is called cross-contamination. In addition to not washing your turkey, this can be prevented by washing your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Also, wash the counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water. For extra protection, you can mix 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach in 1 gallon of water and apply to counter tops and sinks after cleaning with soap and water.

You can also prevent cross-contamination by disposing of plastic wrapping. Avoid reusing them, said Burney, since this can spread bacteria.

What do you do with a package of giblets – heart, neck, gizzards and liver – that comes in the cavity of the turkey? Whether or not you decide to use the giblets, they should be removed before cooking the turkey. Many people use the giblets to make a giblet gravy. Simply simmer with herbs and vegetables to make a flavorful stock. Use the stock, pan drippings, flour and cream to make a gravy. Add chopped giblets to the gravy or not depending on your preference.

The only way to be sure you kill bacteria on your raw turkey is to cook it to a temperature of 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to be sure you have reached this safe temperature. Then, enjoy your turkey.

Don’t be caught on Santa’s naught list, make food safety a priority this holiday season.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment.

For more information on this or other family and consumer-sciences programs contact Shelly Barnes at 615-444-9584 or sbarnes@utk.edu. Barnes is an Extension agent for the University of Tennessee Extension in Wilson County.

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