DO NOT RINSE YOUR TURKEY! And other Thanksgiving food rules for every day

Nov 21 2011 :: Published in Food Safety

Thanksgiving Turkey

By Michelle Forman, Senior Media Specialist, APHL

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate family and friends, enjoy the fall harvest, and to stuff our faces full of delicious food.  No matter your specific traditions, I’m certain the stuffing-of-faces is common across all Thanksgiving tables.

I must confess, I’ve never prepared a full Thanksgiving meal although I have contributed dishes.  When I cook any time of year, not just for Thanksgiving, I have two goals: 1) Make delicious food and 2) Not make people sick.  Both require following some simple rules – for #1, a recipe.  For #2, a set of rules that I’ve learned from the Food Safety Team at APHL. Rules that effectively put bacteria on a stake in your front yard as a warning to all other bacteria saying “You are not welcome here! You will be cooked properly!”  Not following these rules means inviting Auntie Campylobacter and Cousin Salmonella to your table.  Unless you would like to spend the best shopping weekend of the year doubled over with a fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, pay attention.  And, truth be told, these rules don’t just apply to Thanksgiving.

Roughly half of all meat in the US is contaminated with some sort of bacteria.  While that is pretty gross, you can follow these rules to avoid the grossness:

  1. DO. NOT. RINSE.  Did you hear me?  Don’t listen to your grandmother and her grandmother and all the grandmothers who tell you to rinse your poultry.  DO NOT RINSE YOUR POULTRY.  I’ve got science on my side on this one, Grandma!  Rinsing your poultry – any bird, not just turkey – can actually cause bacteria to aerosolize (how’s that for an image?) and spread around your kitchen up to three feet! Three feet!  That’s really far!  Within three feet of my sink, I have my spice rack, cooking utensils, coffee pot and my baby’s bottles sitting on a drying rack.  What is within three feet of your sink?  Yeah… gross, huh? Plus, it is completely unnecessary.  Rinsing poultry does nothing to get rid of most bacteria – the bacteria that it does eliminate are now splashing around your kitchen.  What does eliminate bacteria? Proper cooking (we’ll get to that).  We aren’t the only ones who will tell you this.  Our friend, USDA, agrees.   And, from a cook’s perspective, you really want a dry skin on your poultry so it can get nice and crispy.
  2. Avoid cross contamination.  When you handle that big beautiful bird, make sure nothing else is around.  You don’t want any of those raw turkey juices getting on anything that you can’t immediately clean.  If Tom needs to be trimmed, use a separate cutting board and knife than you plan to use for your veggies.  Did you happen to see Dr. Richard Besser on The Chew talking about safe food handling?  Cross contamination can happen to the best of us, but we should do everything we can to prevent it.
  3. Wash your hands.  Wash your hands.  Wash your hands.  What was that?  Wash your hands.  You cannot wash your hands too much while handling raw meat.  Think about everything you touch while preparing food – utensils, towels, the countertop, your clothes, your body (why does my nose always itch when I’m cutting up chicken?), even the soap dispenser.  Washing your hands properly will help keep all that bacteria from making its way onto every item in your kitchen.  And if it does get on another surface, wash it.
  4. Don’t thaw your turkeysicle on the counter.  The raw turkey needs to be kept at 40 degrees.  If you thaw it on the counter, the outside (the part that is defrosting the fastest) will likely get warmer than 40 degrees and therefore become more susceptible to bacteria.  Thaw your turkey either in the fridge or in cold water.  Yes, it takes a very long time to thaw a big bird that way so be prepared!  Here is a handy chart with thawing times.  Another good tip – put your turkey in a dish while it sits in the fridge.  You would hate to find out about that tiny hole in the plastic while it is defrosting… a flood of raw turkey juices in your fridge is not so pretty.  Er, so I’ve heard.
  5. Cook your turkey to a safe temperature – which also means getting a good meat thermometer.  All poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees.  We’ll talk about stuffing next, but if you plan to cook your stuffing inside of your turkey that means it also needs to be cooked to 165 degrees.  It is that simple, folks.  Pay no attention to those popper things that come in the turkey.  Check the temperature yourself.  Unlike with your kids, you actually want your turkey to have a fever of 165. Recipe
  6. Let’s talk about stuffing.  First of all, I’m from the South where we call it dressing.  For the sake of food safety, we should all call it dressing.  Why?  Because stuffing can be unsafe because it is stuffing.  Let’s break this down… you fill the cavity of the bird with stuffing so that Tom’s delicious juices add great flavor to your stuffing.  Correct?  As we discussed above (see points one through, well, all of them), Tom’s juices are loaded with bacteria.  Those bacteria are now in your stuffing in the center of the turkey, the part that is farthest from the heat source and therefore takes the longest to reach a safe temperature (165 degrees).   So you have two choices.  You could: 1) Cook the turkey to its perfect temperature while it is still perfectly moist, serving it with the stuffing that is not cooked to the perfect temperature and therefore at risk of carrying bacteria that is going to send your guests home with a party favor they did NOT ask for, or 2) Cook the bird and the stuffing until the stuffing in the center is cooked to a safe temperature thus overcooking and drying out your turkey.  If I had to pick from those options – undercooked stuffing or overcooked turkey – I’d choose… tofurky.  There are two secret options that mean everybody wins.  Either 1) Cook your stuffing separately.  Use a delicious, rich stock (chicken, turkey, or vegetable) to add the flavor you’re looking for.  I promise it will taste good.  Or 2) Cooking the stuffing in the bird, remove it, and continue cooking it outside of the turkey until it reaches a safe 165 degrees.  Recipe
  7. Avoid BPAs.  Now, this next “rule” is really more of a suggestion.  I think by now most people know that canned goods have a liner that often contains Bisphenol A or BPA.  We buy BPA free water bottles and BPA free toys for our kids yet somehow on Thanksgiving all of that knowledge of BPAs goes out the window because, goshdarnit, we Americans love our canned cranberry sauce.  If it isn’t still in the shape of the can complete with rings, we don’t want it!  Myself included!  Well, not anymore.  I didn’t order harmful chemicals with my cranberry sauce, thanks.  Make it yourself from fresh or frozen cranberries.  It is easy and delicious… and much safer.  Recipe

Remember the two goals I mentioned at the beginning – making delicious food and not making people sick?  They can both happen at the same time by following some simple rules.  When it comes to safe food handling, it is all about awareness.  Be aware of cross contamination, what you touch, and the internal temperature of your food.  Follow these rules and your guests will be thankful that they didn’t learn the word “campylobacter” for the first time while at your house.

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APHL Staff Say Thank You

Nov 21 2011 :: Published in General

On this Monday before Thanksgiving — officially deemed “Public Health Thank You Day” — APHL’s staff says what they are thankful for…

I’m thankful for the unsung heroes of public health – the heroes in lab coats and PAPRS!  They are often the first to detect an outbreak, or influenza or other nasty bugs in our communities.  They keep ensure we can lead healthy productive lives!  I’m thankful for America’s public health laboratorians!

  • Scott Becker, MS, Executive Director

I am thankful that hand sanitizer has become so ubiquitous.  As a result, I am looking forward to no colds or flu this season.

  • Jane Getchell, DrPH, Senior Director, Public Health Programs

APHL Loves Public HealthI’m thankful first and foremost for our national public health infrastructure which is no doubt sustained in large part by virtue of the work of Public Health Laboratories.  All too often we take for granted our health, not realizing that from the moment one is born (maternal and child health initiatives, newborn screening, vaccination) through childhood and adulthood, we are conferred great benefits to both our individual health as well as to our national health indicators because of the very services provided by the infrastructure supported by public health laboratories!

  • Sikha Singh, MHS, Specialist, Laboratory Response Network

I’m thankful for vaccines and vaccine programs that keep my family safe from so many diseases that affected grandparents and great grandparents (or ancestors).  And thanks to all those unsung heroes who work behind the scenes in public health laboratories throughout the country responding to outbreaks, testing our newborns and always ready for the next public health emergency.

  • Karen Breckenridge, MBA, MT(ASCP), Director of Quality Systems

I’m thankful to be protected against emerging infectious diseases. Whether the latest threat is H1N1 in Mexico or Ebola in East Africa, I know that am protected by the vigilance of our nation’s public health laboratories.

  • Jody DeVoll, MAT, Director of Strategic Communications

There are many different career options for people who work in medicine and science.  I am thankful for the countless scientists, nurses and doctors who decided to dedicate their careers to the public health mission.

  • Jennifer Pierson, MPH, Senior Specialist, Environmental Health

I am thankful that data from American governmental laboratories informs policies on healthy food production, environmental quality, and vaccination, all of which protect our families from deadly diseases.

  • Shari Shea, MHS, MT(ASCP), Director, Food Safety Programs


  • Sherrie Staley, MPH, Specialist, Global Health

I’m thankful for knowing that my new granddaughter won’t get the flu from family members because we were all able to get the flu vaccine.

  • Lisa Kingsley, MBA, CPA, Controller

I’m thankful for the dedication of our laboratorians and their zeal to find answers fast.

  • Leigh Slayden, Director of Marketing & Member Services

I am thankful for public health tracing and eliminating hazards to the public’s health.

  • Pat Dostert, MA, MT(ASCP), Manager, Continuing Education and Training

Growing up in a developing country significantly impacted my expectations and outlook on governmental services. For instance, we did not always have a safe drinking water supply. Actually, we didn’t always have water. Many of us collected rain water and boiled it prior to consumption.  After 16 years of living in the United States, I am most thankful for clean drinking water, a service assured by federal laws and laboratories across the US.

I am also thankful for essential governmental services such as laboratory testing for threat agents, vaccinations, and educational information to change habits and prevent disease and protect the public’s health. A special thank you to all of the dedicated public health employees who work tirelessly to ensure a safe and healthy population.

  • Chris Mangal, MPH, Director, Public Health Preparedness and Response

I am thankful that our members are able to connect with and assist in the creation or enhancement of National Public Health Laboratories worldwide to ensure quality testing and provide accurate, timely results that save and improve lives each and every day. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that the work done both here and abroad is impacting so many people positively.

  • Anonymous

I’m thankful that I can go grocery shopping and out to dinner without wondering if the food is safe to eat and the water is safe to drink.  I’m thankful I can take deep breaths without fearing disease and, in the event of illness, I can likely find out what’s wrong with me.  I’m thankful that if disaster strikes, capable and dedicated individuals are equipped to deal with the problem efficiently and effectively.  And I’m thankful for those leaders of our country who recognize the importance of continuing to fund the activities that make all of this possible.

  • Annie Carlin, MPP, Senior Specialist, Public Policy

I’m thankful that there are more hand sanitizers available everywhere, i.e. grocery store, shopping malls, etc; that there are more sidewalks being built to prevent pedestrian/runner injuries; that there are public health laboratories who can investigate food borne illnesses and test babies; and that restaurants are offering healthy options and putting nutritional information on the menus (so you know how much you have to work out the day after if you didn’t choose a healthy option).

  • Anonymous


4 responses so far