That makes it all the more important to stay clean and organized as you're preparing your Turkey Day meal, North Carolina State University food safety expert Ben Chapman says in a new video. Having a system — such as a rule that plastic cutting boards are for meat and wooden ones are for veggies and fruits — can help.
"You want to make sure that you keep everything separate," Chapman said. "Any contamination that might go onto one cutting board is contained."
After you've thawed your turkey and unwrapped it, your next steps should be to clean and sanitize the utensils, cutting boards or platters that have touched raw meat, Chapman said. These are two different steps. Washing using dish soap will get rid of debris and juices. Sanitizing with a spray bottle of one tablespoon of bleach diluted in water will kill nasty microbes.
One thing you shouldn't wash, Chapman said: Your turkey. People often rinse their bird under the sink, but that does nothing to get rid of pathogens and can actually spread them. [Video – Thanksgiving Food Safety]
"The velocity of that water can spray those pathogens up to a yard away from your sink," Chapman said.
Cooking thoroughly will kill any bugs on the outside of your bird, Chapman said. If there are feathers or other grime on the turkey, patting it down with a paper towel is the safest bet.
Pre-washed bagged lettuce is another food that can skip the rinse, Chapman said: "You can't do anything more in your kitchen here to reduce risk."
Editor's note: This article was updated at 10:25 am E.T. to correct Chapman's affilitation. He is a North Carolina State University professor, not a University of North Carolina professor.
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.