When it comes to chicken cleanliness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a recommendation: stop washing your poultry.
A study from the USDA shows that people are putting themselves at risk of illness when they rinse or wash raw poultry, the agency said in a press release Monday.
The study conducted by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service was done in partnership with North Carolina State University and examined how home cooks handle raw meat. It also examined how the handling of raw meat can affect the cleanliness of other food nearby.
Here's how it worked: 300 participants prepared chicken and salad in test kitchens. Some of the participants were shown social media messages warning against washing poultry before they prepared their food while another group was not shown the messages.
"The food safety messages in the emails effectively encouraged participants not to wash raw chicken thighs before cooking," the study states, with 93 percent of participants heeding the warning they were shown.
Of the control group participants — who were not shown the social media warnings on poultry washing — 61 percent washed their poultry before cooking it.
Among the people who reported washing their poultry when cooking at home, 30 percent said they did it to remove blood and slime while 19 percent said they did it because that's how a family member does it.
It may not seem like a big deal to rinse chicken but it affects the cleanliness of nearby food, the study showed. Among the group of people who washed their poultry, nearly 30 percent of their lettuce used for salads was contaminated with chicken bacteria. This figure was only 20 percent among the people who didn't wash their chicken.
The culprit? Cross-contamination from washing poultry.
"Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods, " said Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. "The best practice is not to wash poultry.”
The USDA recommends the following steps to help prevent illness when preparing poultry or meat in the home:
- Significantly decrease your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, BEFORE handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
- Of the participants who washed their raw poultry, 60 percent had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning is that 14 percent still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink.
- 26 percent of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready to eat salad lettuce.
- Thoroughly clean and sanitize ANY surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated from raw meat and poultry, or their juices.
- Of the participants that did not wash their raw poultry, 31 percent still managed to get bacteria from the raw poultry onto their salad lettuce.
- This high rate of cross-contamination was likely due to a lack of effective handwashing and contamination of the sink and utensils.
- Clean sinks and countertops with hot soapy water and then apply a sanitizer.
- Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry. Wet your hands with water, lather with soap and then scrub your hands for 20 seconds.
- Destroy any illness causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.
- Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) are safe to eat at 145°F.
- Ground meats (burgers) are safe to eat at 160°F.
- Poultry (whole or ground) are safe to eat at 165°F.
- Washing, rinsing, or brining meat and poultry in salt water, vinegar or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria. If there is anything on your raw poultry that you want to remove, pat the area with a damp paper towel and immediately wash your hands.