And where to call if you have questions on Thanksgiving Day.

Share story

Nearly 70 percent of people think that washing poultry with water before cooking is a good thing, but they’re wrong, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service this week released five food safety tips to prevent foodborne illnesses as Americans prepare to gather with family and friends around the dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving:

1. Don’t wash that turkey.

More Thanksgiving planning

(Jackie Donnelly / Special to The Seattle Times)
(Jackie Donnelly / Special to The Seattle Times)

According to a recent food-safety survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, 68 percent of the public washes a whole turkey before cooking it. The USDA, however, does not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking because it can spread bacteria up to 3 feet around the sink. Cooking meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary, the USDA says.

2. Use the refrigerator, the cold-water method or the microwave to defrost a frozen turkey.

There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave oven. Thawing food in the refrigerator — which takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird — is the safest method.  To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to your microwave’s owner’s manual. 

3. Use a meat thermometer.

The only way to determine if a turkey  is cooked is to check its internal temperature with a food thermometer. A whole turkey should be checked in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast. Your thermometer should register 165 degrees F in all three of these places. 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, but not overdone.

4. Don’t store food outside, even if it’s cold.

Storing food outside is not food safe because animals can get into it and contaminate it and because outdoor temperatures vary. The best way to keep that extra Thanksgiving food at a safe temperature, below 40 degrees F, is in the refrigerator or in a cooler with ice.

5. Leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it within 2 hours of the turkey coming out of the oven. Leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator, so if you know you won’t use them right away, pack them into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze. For best quality, use your leftover frozen turkey within four months.

If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at  1-888-674-6854 to talk to a food-safety expert. You can also chat live with a food-safety expert at AskKaren.gov, available from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. PST, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. PST. You can also call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at 1-800-288-8372 where talk-line experts typically answer 10,000 calls on Thanksgiving Day. They’re also available via text at 1-844-877-3456, or check out their Twitter account @butterball.