Wash Your Hands, Not Your Poultry (or Other Meat)

Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) and other meat should NOT be washed before cooking.  Washing poultry and other meat spreads germs to other areas of the kitchen, and is not effective at removing bacteria that may be present.  A study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology illustrates why it’s a bad idea to wash meat and poultry.  Researchers inoculated chicken pieces with a human pathogen, Campylobacter jejuni, and tried to rinse the bacteria off with water.  The inoculated pieces were individual middle-sections of a chicken wing.  Even after rubbing each segment by hand for 2 minutes, almost no bacteria were removed from the surface – and they were working on a pretty small area and scrubbing, not rinsing.  Over the years, research has shown that bacteria readily stick to poultry meat and skin, and can hide in the many cracks and crevices on a poultry carcass, making it difficult to remove any type of bacteria from poultry just by rinsing [Park et al. 2002. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 72:77-83].

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for America noted: “Raw seafood, meat, and poultry should not be rinsed.  Bacteria in these raw juices can spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces, leading to foodborne illness.”

A study summarized in the UW-Extension handout Wash Your Hands: Not Your Poultry suggests that bacteria can fly up to 3 feet away from where the meat is rinsed, contaminating the sink, clean dishes, counter tops and other surfaces.  A YouTube video from New Mexico State University shows the distances that germs can fly in your kitchen when washing poultry and, instead of washing, promotes the safe cooking of chicken.  Recipes for lemon roasted chicken, oven-fried chicken, and chicken-mole, and videos showing how to prepare each, are posted to YouTube from New Mexico State.  Cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F is a great way to help ensure that the food that you feed to your family is safe.  A paper towel can be used to dry the surface of meat or poultry, or to remove small spots of congealed blood – then discard the paper towels.

After handling meat and poultry, raw or cooked, be sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds in warm soapy water.  Remember, wash your hands, but not your meat or poultry!  Stay food safe!

Authored By: Barb Ingham, 608-263-7383, bhingham@wisc.edu
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