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Do not wash your turkey: Thanksgiving food safety tips

Cooking a turkey is a tradition that can be a little tricky.

Cooking a turkey is a tradition that can be a little tricky.

From pumpkin carving to pumpkin pie, Carson City Health and Human Services wants you to celebrate this thanksgiving season by following some easy and helpful food safety tips to keep your family gatherings safe.

Do not wash your turkey

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend NOT washing your raw turkey because poultry juices may have bacteria and germs that could easily spread to other foods, contaminate surfaces, utensils, and countertops.

We understand many family traditions include this step, and if you decide to wash your turkey, immediately clean, and thoroughly sanitize (preferably with a bleach and water solution at a ratio of 1 teaspoon per gallon of water) the sink, surrounding areas and utensils. Research findings from the USDA have found that 1 in 7 people who cleaned their sink after washing chicken still had germs in the sink – remember you cannot see or smell germs.

Food storage of frozen and fresh turkeys

Frozen raw turkeys should be stored in the freezer until ready to thaw or defrost. Check your freezer to make sure the temperature of your freezer is at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Fresh raw turkeys can be stored in the refrigerator 1 to 2 days before cooking.

Raw turkey thawing safety tips

1: The USDA strongly recommends placing your raw turkey in a container to prevent any turkey juices from dripping onto other foods while thawing in a refrigerator. Rule of thumb: allow about 24 hours (1 day) of thawing for each 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey in the refrigerator can remain the refrigerator once it has been thawed for 1 to 2 days before cooking.

2: When thawing your turkey in cold water, make sure it is in a leakproof plastic bag before placing it in the sink. Completely cover your turkey with cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes of thawing for each pound of turkey and you must cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

3: When thawing your turkey in a microwave, follow the microwave manufacturer’s instructions for thawing your turkey. Be sure to cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

Warning - Never thaw your turkey on the counter at room temperature. When a turkey stays out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, it is unsafe, even if the center is still frozen. Germs can grow rapidly in the “danger zone” between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Please keep these four simple steps in mind as you plan and prepare the day of your Thanksgiving dinner:

• Before you start any food preparation, you want to be sure no one who is cooking or handling the food has been sick within the last 24 hours.

• Clean – Wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after handling turkey. Clean all utensils, plates, countertops and cutting boards.

• Separate – Separate your raw turkey from fresh foods by using separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils. Keep dishes that touch raw foods separate as well and wash items that touch raw meat with soap and water. Remember: never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate, cutting board, or other surface that touched raw turkey.

• Cook – Cook your turkey in a 2 to 2 1/2 inch deep roasting pan at temperatures above 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius). When the turkey is cooked, use a meat thermometer to ensure it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius). Make sure to stick your meat thermometer in the thickest parts of the turkey (the thickest part of the breast, innermost part of the thigh, and innermost part of the wing) to make sure it is fully cooked. You also want to make sure stuffing cooked with the turkey reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, too.

• Chill – After your meal, leftovers should be portioned into small containers and refrigerated to 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below within 2 hours of cooking. Leftovers can stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and frozen for use between 2-6 months for quality. Reheat leftovers thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) as well.

Cheers to a food safe and memorable holiday season.

For information on safe food practices in your home, contact our Environmental Health Division at 775-887-2190 Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or email us at We have free thermometers available as well if you would like to pick one up at 900 E. Long St., Carson City. “Like” us on Facebook at, follow us on Twitter @CCHealthEd 


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