poultry

The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

I just can’t stomach the idea of not washing raw chicken before cooking it. The slime on it is really off-putting. Isn’t rinsing out my sink afterward good enough to prevent spreading any germs?

No, it’s not.

You shouldn’t wash or rinse raw chicken or any other raw poultry before cooking it, because doing so doesn’t kill any bacterial pathogens such as Campylobacter, salmonella, or other bacteria that might be on the inside and outside of raw chicken.

When you wash or rinse raw chicken, you are likely splashing chicken juices that can spread those pathogens in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some estimates say the splatter can spread out and land on surfaces up to 3 feet away.

In fact, a new report issued last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service showed dangerous levels of contamination between bacteria from raw poultry and other surfaces, and foods being prepared nearby.

The study involved 300 people who prepared a meal of chicken thighs and salad in a test kitchen. Of those who washed the chicken before cooking it, 60% were found to have left a trail of bacteria in the sinks and surrounding areas.

Even after washing out the sinks, 14% of the sinks were still contaminated with bacteria. Even worse, of the salads that were prepared in the test kitchen where participants washed the raw chicken, 26% were contaminated with bacteria from the raw chicken.

That’s a problem because pathogens such as Campylobacter and salmonella can survive on surfaces such as countertops for up to 32 hours, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The only way to kill these potentially dangerous bacteria is to cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Practicing sound, safe food handling is important, considering that 48 million Americans get sick with a foodborne illness every year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die, according to the CDC.

“Everyone has a role to play in preventing illness from food,” according to a USDA written statement. “Please keep in mind that children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.

“Washing or rinsing raw meat and poultry can increase your risk as bacteria spreads around your kitchen, but not washing your hands for 20 seconds immediately after handling those raw foods is just as dangerous.”

To lessen your chances of developing a foodborne illness, the USDA says to:

  • Prepare foods that will be served uncooked, such as vegetables and salads, before handling raw meat or poultry.
  • Clean and sanitize thoroughly any surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated from raw meat and poultry, or their juices. To do this, clean sinks and countertops with hot, soapy water, let them dry, and then apply a sanitizer to them.
    wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinse them under warm running water, and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel after handling raw poultry or any other raw meat.
  • Lastly, be sure to cook your chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, using a food thermometer to measure the temperature. Beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks, roasts, and chops are safe to eat at 145 degrees, while ground meats are safe to eat at 160 degrees, the USDA says.

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Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.