Don’t Wash Your Chicken!

— Written By Emily Troutman and last updated by
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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about a million people get sick from contaminated raw poultry each year. While chicken is a common and nutritious protein source for Americans, it is commonly associated with campylobacter (found on close to half of commercially available chicken), salmonella, and clostridium perfringens bacteria. Infections from these bacteria can cause a wealth of gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps), and can be especially bad for those with compromised immune systems, including young, elderly, and pregnant people. While there is risk involved with handling raw poultry in the kitchen, there are several precautions you can take to significantly reduce that risk and give you a better chance of protecting yourself and your family from food borne illness.

While you may have grown up watching family members wash raw chicken before cooking, we are lucky that science has shown us the risk involved with washing meat in the kitchen sink. It is common belief among home cooks that washing poultry will rid the surface of any germs that may be present. In actuality, washing your chicken prior to cooking is more likely to spread harmful germs around the kitchen than get rid of them, which may, in turn, increase risk for foodborne illness. Research has shown that bacteria already present on raw chicken can travel up to 3 feet from where the meat is being washed. Think about what could be within 3 feet of your sink: maybe cutting boards, utensils, paper towels, or ready-to-eat foods? If bacteria is splashed, those things are all at risk of becoming vehicles of cross-contamination and food borne illness. Instead of washing your poultry, use cooking to 165°F as the method for bacteria removal.

If chicken is on your menu, use these tips to reduce risk of food borne illness in your home:

  • Place chicken in disposable plastic bag before placing in your cart or refrigerator to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure poultry reaches proper internal cooking temperature of 165°F.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds after handling raw poultry and use a one-use towel to dry.
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw chicken.
  • Sanitize cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops after preparing raw chicken.
  • Store raw poultry in the bottom of your refrigerator to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other foods.