MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Should Ever Rinse Raw Chicken?

When it comes to food safety, it pays to be careful. Properly handling & preparing meat, fish, and poultry to minimize the risk of foodborne illness is key. But one step some people might’ve picked up from relatives or some misguided online advice actually has the potential to increase your chances of getting sick: rinsing raw chicken, which is actually a very bad idea. And here’s why…

Some home chefs (and maybe even some commercial chefs) believe washing raw chicken can help remove pathogens like Salmonella. That is possible…but it’s totally unnecessary. Because cooking poultry up to 165° F will kill off any dangerous bacteria.

But it’s not just about wasted time & effort. According to the USDA, rinsing chicken allows harmful bacteria to spread. A 2019 USDA observational study found bacteria was present in 60% of sinks used to wash poultry; and those sinks still had lingering bacteria even after being cleaned. Because cooks use sinks to rinse foods like lettuce or other vegetables, there’s a really high potential for cross-contamination. And the sink isn’t the only place chickens spread germs. Because water is hitting a hard surface—the uncooked chicken—there’s high potential for contaminated water to splash nearby targets, like clean prep surfaces, dishes, or other food.

Rinsing chicken has origins in how raw meat was sold decades ago. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for meat to be stocked without any cleaning, leaving residue or other contaminants that made rinsing a reasonable step. But celebrity chefs like Julia Child helped popularize the practice. Nowadays, better food standards mean chicken is already rinsed & cleaned before it’s packaged.

If you want to soak up water already collected on raw chicken, use disposable paper towels then immediately throw them away. Any sponges used to clean where raw poultry has contacted the surface should also be tossed instead of reused. It’s also a good idea to rinse any vegetables before (and after) handling raw chicken.

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