The Big Mistake Most People Make When Cooking Their Thanksgiving Turkey
Thanksgiving is a festive and sometimes hectic holiday. There are so many things on your Thanksgiving meal prep to-do list--boil the potatoes, shape the pie crusts, crumble bread for stuffing.
In fact, some people find themselves in such a rush that they forget to thaw the showstopper, the centerpiece--the turkey. But there's something else, something direly important, that people actually are doing wrong when preparing for the big feast. Something that could even be deadly. Do you know what it is?
While you think you're doing the right thing, the healthy thing, by rinsing your bird, researchers will tell you to stop doing that. In fact, your life could depend upon it. Whether you cook your turkey the same way every year, or mix it up with the most recent trends, there is one thing to keep in mind this Thanksgiving before you start cooking your bird. Do not rinse your turkey. Doing so can make you and your guests very sick.
You've probably been taught to rinse poultry before cooking with the idea that you're rinsing off the harmful bacteria. But you're not. You're actually making the situation worse by giving that bird a bath in the sink.
Why? Because according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rinsing, washing or soaking your poultry is not only unnecessary, it's harmful--even deadly. Bathing your bird for the big day doesn't destroy any bacteria present, but rather increases the risk that you are contaminating everything around you, like the sink, countertops, other food and utensils. That's because contaminated water droplets bouncing off the bird as you're washing it become airborne and land on other surfaces--like your side dishes and pies.
Raw poultry in particular contains salmonella and campylobacter, two of the main causes of food poisoning. People who unknowingly consume food contaminated with campylobacter can develop diarrhea. People also can remain ill for up to 10 days and endure extreme abdominal pain. There have even been long-term effects noted from contracting campylobacter, including arthritis and Guillan-Barre syndrome.
Salmonella also can cause diarrhea, as well as a fever, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. People who consume food containing salmonella usually are sick for a few days, but those who are very young, very old or with suppressed immune systems can develop more serious complications that can result in death.
Since you likely do not want to experience the horrific side effects from consuming food laced with these types of bacteria while surrounded by guests and loved ones on Thanksgiving Day, resist the urge to wash that bird. Just follow the proper thawing directions for the size of your bird and transfer it straight from the wrapper to the roaster or fryer.
Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, an associate professor at Drexel University, has engaged in a campaign to help people understand why they shouldn't wash their poultry. In fact, almost 90 percent of the population who cooks poultry has confessed to cleaning the bird by rinsing it. But they're just engaging in a process called aerosolization, meaning the spread of bacteria through airborne water droplets, she said.
"Some think they're cleaning off germs. Some just want to get slime off or feel like it's dirty. There are a range of reasons, including just feeling like they should do it - 'It's raw, I should clean it.'"
While you're baking pies, rolling dough, mixing the stuffing, peeling potatoes, basting the ham and not washing your turkey, don't forget the U.S. Department of Agriculture's simple steps to saying safe while handling the poultry. It's part of the department's Food Safe Families campaign:
Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.
Separate. Do not let raw poultry or its juices touch other foods.
Cook. Cook poultry to the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer.
There are additional and somewhat surprising tips the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers those who will be wrestling with a 20-pound hunk of poultry for Thanksgiving, including:
--Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals.
--The use of a foil tent for the entire time can slow cooking.
--Use of the roasting pan's lid speeds cooking.
--An oven cooking bag can accelerate cooking time.
--A turkey or its pan may be too large for the oven, thus blocking heat circulation.
Safe handling of that turkey is crucial to ensuring you and your guests do not fall ill. There are only three safe ways to let your bird thaw out, including in the refrigerator, sealed up in packaging in cold water and in the microwave, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Be sure to transport the turkey directly from your vehicle into the refrigerator. Do not leave it in the trunk, in the garage or even outside to thaw.
Watch this video and learn just how long to thaw that turkey--without washing it before cooking, of course.
So when that turkey tempts you to give it a good rinse and pat dry before plopping it in the roasting pan, don't cave in. Remember that giving it a bath in the sink will only contribute to spreading those deadly bacteria around your kitchen and possibly into the nearest pie or potatoes. Instead, prepare it safely and have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal.