Go ahead and rinse your cranberries, potatoes, and green beans. But food experts say don't—repeat don't—wash the turkey before popping it in the oven on Thanksgiving Day. Experts at the US Department of Agriculture say that could spread the germs lurking on your turkey—to be killed with thorough cooking—into the kitchen sink or onto nearby food, per the AP. But it's been a challenge trying to convince cooks to stop rinsing off raw poultry. "It just feels good to wash it," said one participant in a food safety study. Study author Benjamin Chapman, a food safety expert at North Carolina State University, said the instinct goes back at least decades when people relied more on visual cues to spot problems with poultry. But food prep is a juggling act, and germs from poultry can be spread even if it's not washed, especially when birds are removed from packaging.
It's why washing and sanitizing hands, utensils, and surfaces are even more important. The USDA-funded study underscores that point. Researchers sprayed raw chicken with a harmless strain of E. coli and watched volunteer cooks at test kitchens. Among those who washed their raw chicken, about a quarter ended up spreading the bacteria to their lettuce. But even some of those who did not rinse the chicken got germs on the lettuce. Thawing offers more opportunities for germs to survive and thrive. Experts say frozen birds shouldn't be left out on counters since germs can start multiplying on the outer parts that defrost first. They instead recommend thawing in fridges, cold water, or in microwaves. And to ensure a bird is thoroughly cooked, they say to use a thermometer to check that the deepest and thickest parts of it have reached 165 degrees.