Thanksgiving food tips from USDA: When it comes to the bird, safety’s the word

Today’s guest blog on turkey safety is by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

USDA Thanksgiving Food Safety Infographic
Whether you’re a Thanksgiving cooking pro or newbie, preparing one of the largest meals of the year can be stressful. To avoid making mistakes that could cause foodborne illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service wants you to be aware of these common Thanksgiving myths:

  • Myth: You should wash your raw turkey
    Food safety experts — including us at USDA — don’t recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Many bacteria are quite loosely attached, and when you rinse these foods the bacteria will be spread around your kitchen. In fact, research shows that washing meat or poultry in water spreads bacteria throughout the kitchen — onto countertops, other food, towels and you. Water can splash bacteria up to three feet surrounding your sink, which can lead to illnesses.

    Researchers at Drexel University have shown that it’s best to move meat and poultry straight from package to pan, as the heat required for cooking will kill any bacteria that may be present.
  • Myth: You can’t cook a frozen turkey
    If your turkey is still icy on Thanksgiving morning, don’t panic! It’s perfectly safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. It’ll just take longer to cook. A solidly frozen turkey will take at least 50 percent longer to cook than a thawed turkey. If you cannot separate the giblet package from the turkey at the start, just remember to remove it carefully with tongs or a fork a few hours into the cooking process.
  • Myth: The bird is done when juices run clear
    Do you check if your Thanksgiving turkey is done by poking the turkey to see if the juices run clear? Do you also keep repeating this process until everyone is hungry and you are left with a dry turkey?

    The only way to determine if a turkey is safely cooked and ready to serve is to take the temperature of the turkey with a food thermometer in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast. The thermometer should read 165°F.

    The juices rarely run clear at this temperature, and when they do the bird is often overcooked. Using the food thermometer is the best way to ensure your turkey is cooked to a safe internal temperature, but not overcooked. 


If you have any Thanksgiving myths you want to check out, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline — 1-888-674-6854 — where you can talk to a food safety specialist in English or Spanish between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST, or chat live at AskKaren.gov. The Meat and Poultry Hotline will even be open on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST to take last-minute calls.

Download and share USDA’s turkey safety infographic in English or Spanish.

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