Why you should never wash uncooked turkey

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Words by Sarah Rohoman. 

At some point in our lives, we almost all rinsed our Christmas turkey under the tap.

But as it turns out, giving your poultry a quick rinse is not only unhealthy – in some cases, it can even be potentially fatal.

The water droplets that come in contact with the raw meat can spread all over the sink, the tap, the towels and nearby work surfaces spreading harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

The turkey that we buy can carry two dangerous bacteria in their uncooked state: the first is called campylobacter, and the second, which is one you’ve probably heard about, is salmonella. Neither hot or cold water will kill these bacteria, so no matter how thoroughly you wash your poultry, all you’re doing is increasing the chance of spreading the germs across your kitchen.

Campylobacter infection can cause abdominal pain, severe and even bloody diarrhea, fever and vomiting. The symptoms can generally last for up to 10 days, and most people recover without treatment, but it can be fatal in young children, older adults and those who have a weakened immune system.

Salmonella infection has very similar symptoms, with people generally developing diarrhea, fever and cramps that can last up to 12 to 27 hours after being infected. In some cases, salmonella can cause death.

Even if you buy only organically raised turkeys, the bird still can still contain harmful bacteria like the ones found on conventionally raised turkey, so make sure you take precautions with any kind of poultry you’re handling.

All foods come with certain risks, but as long as you follow best practices, you’ll have safe and tasty meals.

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Always make sure your turkey is cooked all the way through and there’s no pink left when you cut through the thickest part of the meat and the juices run clear. If you have a meat thermometer, 165 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended safe internal temperature by the FDA. A thorough cooking is the best – and only – way to remove harmful bacteria.

Be careful to wash any utensils or kitchen tools that came in contact with raw turkey to avoid spreading the bacteria.

And, if you feel like you simply must add in an extra cleaning step to remove sliminess, the FDA recommends patting turkey with a paper towel then throwing out immediately.

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