This article was originally posted on August 24, 2013. We are revisiting it after hearing about a new survey that says 44% of people always wash chicken before cooking it — reported by Food Standards Agency in honor of Food Safety Week 2014.
We all know that chicken and other poultry is loaded with bacteria, and if not handled safely, can cause foodborne illness. That’s why you’re supposed to wash it, right? According to food safety researcher Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, an associate professor at Drexel University, that’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. Washing your chicken before you cook it can actually spread bacteria around the kitchen and increase the risk of cross-contamination. Not only that, but it turns out that water from your tap probably isn’t hot enough to kill bacteria.
“You should assume that if you have chicken, you have either Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria on it, if not both,” says Quinlan, who helped develop the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” campaign. “If you wash it, you’re more likely to spray bacteria all over the kitchen and yourself.”
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services lists these other common safety mistakes that can cause foodborne illness:
- Tasting food to see if it’s spoiled — you can’t taste, smell, or see bacteria that cause food poisoning.
- Putting cooked meat on a plate that previously held raw meat — germs from the raw meat will transfer to the cooked meat.
- Thawing food on the counter — germs multiply faster at room temperature.
- Letting food cool before refrigerating it — it only takes an hour or two for bacteria to multiply.
- Eating raw cookie dough or other foods containing uncooked eggs — uncooked eggs can contain Salmonella or other harmful bacteria.
- Marinating meat, poultry, or seafood on the counter — again, room temperature is ideal for growing bacteria.
- Transferring raw meat or poultry marinade onto cooked foods — bacteria from the raw meat will contaminate the cooked food.
- Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
- Not washing your hands often enough during food preparation.
The bottom line is washing your hands and keeping your kitchen clean are important — but cooking poultry to 165 degrees is the best way to kill bacteria and avoid foodborne illness.