You’ve watched your mother do it, you’ve watched your grandparents do it, but whatever you do, do not rinse your turkey. Poultry sometimes feels like it could use a little wash here and there and it can sometimes feel slimy. According to the USDA, rinsing your turkey will not get rid of unwanted bacteria, as that is virtually impossible. Actually, washing it can increase the chance of spreading bacteria. This is because water that splashes from the bird onto countertops or other surfaces spreads the bacteria and creates a real possibility for cross contamination.
“The risk of cross-contamination through washing poultry is worse than putting it in the oven without washing it, which makes the risk almost zero,” Fergus Clydesdale, head of the food science department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told The New York Times.
The best way to get rid of bacteria on turkey is to cook it. And to be sure to wash your hands well after you handle it. The USDA recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap, under warm water. If any surface of your kitchen comes in contact with raw poultry, like countertops and sinks, wash the them with hot, soapy water.
The only way to destroy bacteria on your turkey is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Some chefs prefer to cook to a higher temperature for flavor and texture. Therefore, you don’t need to wash your turkey, but you will need a food thermometer on Thanksgiving Day. Remember to check the turkey’s temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast to be sure it is free of illness-causing bacteria.
While opinions on this topic from the web have mixed views, taking your cooking instruction from the USDA’s recommended best practices is definitely something to consider!