Wash hands and surfaces, not the turkey

By Drusilla Banks

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces.

Some consumers think washing removes bacteria and makes their meat or poultry safe. However, some of the bacteria are so tightly bound that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed. But there are other types of bacteria that can be easily washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen.

Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead to foodborne illness (a.k.a. food poisoning). Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing meat before cooking is not necessary.

Using a food thermometer is the only sure way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria. Cook all raw poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F, as measured with a food thermometer before removing from the heat source.

Handwashing and cross-contamination

Handwashing after handling raw meat or poultry or its packaging is a necessity because anything you touch afterward could become contaminated. This is called cross-contamination. Cross-contamination can happen when bacteria and viruses are transferred from a contaminated surface to one which is not contaminated. In other words, you could become ill by picking up a piece of fruit and eating with unwashed hands after handling raw meat or poultry.

Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, tending to a sick person, blowing your nose, sneezing and coughing, handling pets, or any time hands become contaminated.

It is important to prevent cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry juices by washing countertops and sinks with hot, soapy water. For extra protection, you may sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

Packaging materials from raw meat or poultry also can cause cross-contamination. Never reuse them with other food items. These and other disposable packaging materials, such as foam meat trays, egg cartons or plastic wraps, should be discarded.

For more information on cooking and eating turkey, visit the University of Illinois website page, “Turkey for the Holidays,” at http://extension.illinois.edu/turkey/.

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