For some people, their attempt to make the turkey safer includes washing it before cooking. However, research shows that washing the turkey (or chicken or any other raw meat) before cooking does not improve safety at all, and actually can increase risk of foodborne illness! Any bacteria that is present on the surface of the turkey would be easily killed by cooking it (to the proper minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F).
The risk of foodborne illness is increased by rinsing the bird because when water hits the surface of the turkey, it will pick up any bacteria present and much of it will bounce off and end up on your kitchen counter and anything else that is surrounding your sink. Many times, we have various utensils and bowls, and maybe even foods sitting around the sink, which will also be contaminated with that water. Further, your sink, which you may use later to rinse raw produce or wash dishes, would be contaminated with the bacteria from the turkey as well.
This myth likely originated when most people were preparing turkey that was slaughtered in someone’s backyard and may not have had all the pin feathers removed from the surface. Rinsing was a good way to get rid of those feathers. Today, almost all commercially processed turkey will have all the feathers removed and even if your bird is slaughtered in a backyard somewhere, the pin feathers are likely gone.
More information, including a bacteria simulation, videos and other resources on how bacteria can spread when washing poultry before cooking is available from: http://drexel.edu/dontwashyourchicken/
Other Thanksgiving food safety tips are available from http://missourifamilies.org/features/foodsafetyarticles/fdsfty40.htm or www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/story/Thanksgiving_cooking110513.aspx
Contributor: Londa Nwadike, PhD, Extension Food Safety Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org, 816-655-6258