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Why You Should Never Wash Chicken Before Cooking It

If you've always washed your chicken, it may be time to reconsider this potentially dangerous practice.


By Bridget McCusker, Reader's Digest

It’s the most polarizing problem in poultry—should you wash your chicken before cooking it? Food health and safety professionals are advising against this practice, as it can increase the spread of bacteria and the risk of cross-contamination. Along with these other cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic, carefully handling your raw chicken during preparation is key to avoid food poisoning.

Most people who clean their chickens think they’re washing germs or sliminess from the chicken. And while they’re correct in assuming that raw chicken is often teeming with bacteria, such as campylobacter or salmonella, washing it with water does nothing to combat this. In fact, washing your chicken actually worsens this problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because the running and splashing water can spread bacteria around sinks, countertops, and even your clothing. The USDA maintains that the only sure way to eliminate bacteria is to cook meat to the proper temperature, and these rules extend to other types of meat and fish as well. The minimum temperature of cooked chicken should be 165 degrees, and you can find the temperature for other types of meat in this table as well.

Even professional chefs have been divided on this issue. Julia Child was a staunch supporter of washing chicken, while Ina Garten more recently came out on her show to reinforce that there is no need to wash it or other meats. Garten’s side has the science to back it, and other than the potential hazards of washing chicken, there’s really no reason for it other than attachment to long-cultivated habits. Some of these six foods you should never wash before cooking aren’t as notorious as chicken for causing food poisoning, but you should be just as careful.

If you remain loyal to washing your chicken, however, as Drexel University food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan told NPR, try not washing it at least once to see if you can really notice a difference. If sliminess is an issue, try patting the chicken down with a paper towel. Should you decide to continue your washing habit, you’ll need to take measures to properly disinfect any surfaces the liquid or splashing may have come into contact with, to prevent cross-contamination, and wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat or any food or tool that has come into contact with it. There is a reason that raw chicken is one of the 9 foods food poisoning experts won’t eat, the careful handling and preparation of raw poultry is essential to staying healthy, so be sure to not wash your raw chicken before cooking it!
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