Don’t wash your turkey

More than 45 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving Day, with a never-ending list of side dishes and desserts.

The Thanksgiving meal is by far the largest and most stressful meal many consumers prepare all year, leaving room for mistakes that can make guests sick.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service is offering a couple of important tips to make this Thanksgiving safe and stress-free.

First, wash your hands before cooking, but don’t wash your turkey.

According to the USDA, washing your hands before cooking is the simplest way to stop the spread of bacteria, while washing your turkey is the easiest way to spread bacteria all over your kitchen.

Research shows that washing meat or poultry can splash bacteria around your kitchen by up to 3 feet, contaminating countertops, towels and other food.

Plus, washing the bird doesn’t remove bacteria.

Only cooking the turkey to the correct internal temperature will ensure all bacteria are killed.

Second, take the temperature of the bird

Although there are various ways to cook a turkey, the only way to avoid food-borne illness is to make sure it is cooked to the correct internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.

Take the bird’s temperature in three areas — the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh — make sure all three locations reach 165ºF.

If one of those locations does not register at 165ºF, then continue cooking until all three locations reach the correct internal temperature.

Finally, follow the two-hour rule

Perishable foods should not be left on the table or countertops for longer than two hours. After two hours, food falls into the Danger Zone, temperatures between 40-140ºF, where bacteria can rapidly multiply.

If that food is then eaten, your guests could get sick.

Again, if you have cooking questions, you can go to the USDA turkey hotline at