Why You Shouldn't Wash Your Chicken Before You Cook It

Learn why washing raw meat actually spreads germs, and how to easily prepare chicken and other proteins to protect your family from foodborne illness. (Hint: The solution is on your stove, not in your sink. )

Step away from the faucet, folks. Washing raw chicken doesn't clean it, but it can spread germs in your kitchen.

And don't wash other meat or fish either. Rather than getting rid of bacteria (or whatever it is you're trying to wash off that chicken), you're probably making the problem worse.

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.

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! If you detect any offensive odors after blotting dry your chicken, it's past its prime and should be discarded.

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 (also called "purge," it's the liquid released from meats as a result of cutting, movement from packaging and shipping, freezing and thawing), the safe fix is to simply pat the meat dry with paper towels instead. This 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 any harmful bacteria. So, rinsing is unnecessary when you're cooking chicken properly. The same is true for other meat or fish, although the right temperature varies for those proteins. Per the USDA, these are the temperatures required to kill bacteria in the following proteins.

  • Chicken: 165°F
  • Fish & shellfish: 145°F
  • Beef & pork: 145°F
  • Ground meat: 160°F

Wash your hands, not your chicken

Oh, and it may go without saying, but: Always wash your hands after handling raw chicken. I have a trick 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. If you don't like to touch raw meat or want to be extra sanitary, slide on some gloves. And don't forget to properly wash and disinfect your cutting board, sink and sponge.

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