The Reason You Should Never Wash A Turkey, According To Scientists

While we're told to wash our fresh produce, there's one thing you shouldn't wash — a raw turkey. Now, don't take this the wrong way — proper kitchen washing of cutting boards, utensils, and hands still apply. It's the raw bird itself that doesn't need a wash. 

Experts have discussed the same problem when cooking a chicken, and the answers are mostly straight forward: It's not necessary. The reason for this, according to CBC, is that washing a turkey will not kill any harmful pathogens. Instead, you're more likely to spread contaminated turkey juice across your kitchen, which you most definitely do not want to do. 

In addition, raw meat plus warm water (over 40 F) is against food safety standards, increasing the possible growth of harmful bacteria (via USDA). Excessively hot water could even start the cooking process early. If there is an excess of debris or bone when you open the turkey package, you can quickly rinse in cold water or pat the turkey down with a paper towel. Also, to assure there are no harmful bacteria when ready to eat, make sure you cook the turkey until it has an internal temperature of 165 F (via The Kitchn).

But can you sanitize a turkey?

Now if you shouldn't wash a turkey, it's a safe guess that you shouldn't sanitize that turkey either. The National Centre for Collaborating Environmental Health reminds us that not all sanitizers are safe near food — and definitely not safe to eat. 

Avoid both cross-contamination and harmful bacteria by using kitchen-recommended sanitizers and letting surfaces dry before preparing food. Again, you can't wash all the bacteria off your turkey, but you can easily wash this bacteria off onto other kitchen surfaces, spreading foodborne illness from the raw meat. This is especially likely in a large and cumbersome cut like a whole turkey. 

Instead, let the oven do the work of killing bacteria in your food, and take that cooking time to clean and disinfect any surfaces the raw poultry may have come in contact with. Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water frequently for at least 20 seconds, singing the chorus of your favorite song as a reminder. 

Remember: Cook the turkey, don't clean it.