Learn why washing meat actually spreads germs, plus the proper internal temperature to cook chicken to keep yourself safe.

Breana Lai

The quick answer: No. Step away from the faucet, folks. Washing chicken doesn't clean it, but it can spead germs in your kitchen.

And don't wash other meat or fish either. In fact, rather than getting rid of bacteria (or whatever it is you're trying to wash off that chicken!) you may just be making the problem worse.

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Washing chicken actually spreads germs

First, the science. Raw poultry can harbor bacteria, including Salmonella and Campylobacter. You may not have heard of the latter, but it's linked to an estimated 2.5 million foodborne-illness cases annually in the U.S. (often from eating raw or undercooked poultry).
Now, imagine adding a splattery stream of water on top of the bacteria that may be on your chicken. This stream is going to splash all sorts of chicken--tainted water into your sink (where you wash other things), on your countertops and onto nearby food.

In fact, research has found that washing chicken can spread bacteria up to 3 feet from your sink. That means you've potentially contaminated a good portion of your kitchen. Yuck!

What you should do instead of washing chicken

If you were washing your chicken to try and remove the viscous liquid that can sometimes accumulate in the packaging, the safe fix is to simply pat the meat dry with paper towels instead. It will also help it brown better.

The proper cooking temperature for chicken

The good news for us all? The solution is on your stove, not in your sink. Cooking chicken to the right temperature-165°F-kills the bacteria. The same is true for other meat or fish, although the right temperature varies for those proteins. So rinsing them first is unnecessary.

Minimum Safe Temperature

Per the USDA, these are the temperatures required to kill bacteria in the following proteins.

Chicken-165°F

Fish & Shelfish-145°F

Beef & Pork-145°F

Ground Meat-160°F

Wash your hands, not your chicken

Oh, and it goes without saying: always wash your hands after handling raw chicken. A trick I like to use to keep from having to suds up a million times? Keep one hand "clean" and let the other hand get "dirty." I'm right-handed, so I use my left to handle the meat and my right to season the chicken and place it in a pan before I wash my hands.

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