Cooking turkey this Thankgiving? Don't wash that bird!

Published: Monday, Nov. 19 2012 12:20 p.m. MST

Cooks who rinse their turkey before cooking it to prevent foodborne illness may actually be increasing the chance that dinner guests take home more than full bellies and fond memories of a tasty meal.

A British study suggests that rinsing a 10-pound or larger turkey in the sink can spray juices and any bacteria already there as far as three feet, coating surfaces with an unseen mist of yuck. And according to U.S. Department of Agriculture, studies cited by the Examiner, 1 in 50 turkeys is contaminated with salmonella.

Properly cooking turkey kills the bacteria, so the best bet is to skip the bath and just roast or smoke or fry the bird, making sure it reaches 165 degrees. You test that by sticking a meat thermometer into the fattest part of the breast and then both thighs to make sure that magic temperature is reached, according to Doug Powell, a food-safety expert at Kansas State University. Make sure the meat thermometer isn't touching bone.

Powell warns cooks not to use the old advice that when the juices are clear the turkey is cooked. Use a thermometer, he said.

Salmonella is a nasty bacteria. A fact sheet by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that "most persons infected with it develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients ... infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness."

Cooks should plan ahead and thaw turkey in the fridge "while it sits in a pan that can be easily washed by itself in the dishwasher." The USDA sets these time lengths for thawing a whole turkey in the refrigerator:

4 to 12 pounds: one to three days

12 to 16 pounds: three to four days

16 to 20 pounds: four to five days

20 to 24 pounds: five to six days

Just checking to see if the juices from the bird run clear when the bird is pricked isn't an accurate indicator of its doneness. "Color is a lousy indicator of safety," Powell said. "No matter how you cook your bird, the key is to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to verify safety."

Read more here. A food-preparation article in USA Today this week says the old tradition of rinsing off the turkey before cooking it goes back to the days when poultry "routinely arrived with bits of blood and pinfeathers still attached. Cooks were instructed to wash the carcass well and use tweezers to remove any feathers that didn't get plucked. With today's modern processing, none of that is necessary. You just want to get the turkey into its pan and into the oven with as little dripping and splashing as possible," it counsels.

For good measure, USA Today last year offered recipes for cooking a turkey that's still frozen on Thanksgiving morning.

The other big safety question, according to the recent USA Today article, is whether it's okay to lick the beaters when you've made dessert. The FDA says about 1 in 20,000 eggs has salmonella enteritidis.

Given those odds, Benjamin Chapman, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University, told writer Elizabeth Weise that he's willing to "let others make their own risk decisions. But for himself and his family, the answer is no."

Chapman "talks turkey" on a food-safety blog and he and Powell have collaborated on a food-safety info sheet targeting the holidays and food preparation.

LiveScience also tackles several "myths" of safe turkey preparation. Among other things, the article points out that each thawing method has drawbacks. For instance, if you thaw your bird in the refrigerator, make sure that it's completely thawed. The microwave thaws unevenly, so that's not the preferred method.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS