QUESTION: I saw a discussion on social media this week that said not to wash raw chicken before cooking it. But I always rinse mine with a mixture of lime or lemon juice and vinegar, which my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother did as well. Why should I stop doing that now?
ANSWER: The fact is that you shouldn’t wash or rinse raw chicken or any other raw poultry before cooking it.
This is because rinsing or washing raw chicken doesn’t kill any bacterial pathogens such as campylobacter, salmonella, or other bacteria that might be on the inside and outside of raw chicken. But 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.
In fact, some estimates say the splatter can spread out and land on surfaces up to 3 feet away.
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 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 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.
You likely saw the social media discussion the CDC had on Twitter this week, after the government agency sent a tweet advising consumers not to wash raw chicken before cooking it. That tweet was met with more than 1,000 responding comments debating the merits of whether or not to follow the CDC’s advice.
Although many consumers responded that they’ve always rinsed raw chicken before eating it – with many saying it’s a cultural custom for them to do so – it’s never a good idea to rinse raw poultry if you want to lessen your chance of developing a foodborne illness.
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.
Additionally, after handling raw poultry or any other raw meat, it’s important to 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.
You should also wash any surfaces that might have come into contact with the raw chicken or its juices. Use hot, soapy water to rinse off the surfaces, let them dry, and then use a kitchen sanitizer on them.
Lastly, be sure to cook your chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, using a food thermometer to measure the temperature, the CDC advises.
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