Bottom line: Don’t wash poultry

84467038We had a cookout at my sister’s house last weekend and I noticed she rinsed off her chicken in the sink before preparing it for cooking. Are we supposed to do that? 

In a word, no. In three words, no, no, no!

Your sister may be confusing food safety guidelines for poultry with those for produce. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed under running water before cutting into or consuming them. But poultry really shouldn’t be.

Raw poultry is likely to harbor bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella. A well-publicized study by Consumer Reports earlier this year found 97 percent of the 316 chicken breasts tested were contaminated with bacteria that could make you sick.

The thing is, cooking, not rinsing, is what destroys the bacteria. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to be safe. (Always use a meat thermometer to be sure.)

So, your sister might argue, why not rinse it beforehand? Isn’t that just an extra measure of safety? The answer is: Nope.

The reason is twofold, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. First, some bacteria commonly on the surface of meat and poultry are so tightly attached that no amount of rinsing will ever get them off. Second, and even more important, other types of bacteria are easily washed off — and when you put that raw chicken under the tap, the water is likely to splash all over the sink, the nearby countertop — and on you. And that can cause cross-contamination.

Cross-contamination is one of the primary causes of foodborne illness. Bacteria on your hands and on food-preparation surfaces can contaminate food that otherwise would have been just fine. It’s easy to imagine that, once cooked and relieved of the nasty bacteria, that perfectly fine chicken is placed on a platter that your sister had placed near the sink where she washed the chicken. The platter may look clean, but it could hold bacteria that would re-contaminate the chicken. The bacteria could also splash on her arms, clothing and other surfaces. Rinsing poultry and other raw meat is not only unnecessary, it’s not worth the risk.

You might send your sister a link to New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” website, at aces.nmsu.edu/dontwashyourchicken/. It includes several videos and cooking demonstrations repeating the same message: Don’t. Wash. Chicken.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, field specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.