Please! For the Love of Food Safety, Stop Washing Your Chicken
No, your chicken does not need a rinse.
Do you rinse raw chicken under the kitchen faucet before cooking it? Julia Child did it regularly, and rinsing chicken before prepping and cooking has become common practice in many households. A study from Drexel University found that approximately 90% of people say they wash their chicken before cooking it as historically recipes did instruct people to do so. Even today many folks believe that rinsing chicken can wash away pathogenic bacteria and make the chicken safe to eat. We're here to settle this debate once and for all.
Why You Shouldn't Rinse Chicken
Raw chicken can be contaminated with numerous pathogenic bacteria including Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium Perfringens, all of which can lead to foodborne illness. The study done at Drexel University found that rinsing chicken only increased the chances of spreading bacteria around your sink and counter tops. They even started a website called Don’t Wash Your Chicken, which explains that raw chicken can carry bacteria on the outside, and that research shows that washing poultry under running water can cause the bacteria to spread. Although you may not see the water splashin, you could be getting bacteria getting all over the place, including the counter tops, kitchen towels, and anything that is nearby. It does happen. On the Don’t Wash Your Chicken website there is this video animation showing how far the bacteria spread! If the bacteria do get on raw produce or is ingested especially by young children, pregnant women, older adults, and those with a weakened immune system, it can cause them to get sick.
This is why for the first time in 2005, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans included food safety, and advised against rinsing chicken before cooking. The reason is exactly what the studies found, that those chicken juices get all over the place and can potentially get someone sick.
How to Handle Raw Chicken Safely
There is always a chance that you can contaminate the chicken from the time you pick it up in the store until the time you consume it. To keep the chicken safe to eat, there are simple steps you can follow.
- When shopping: Once you purchase the chicken, bag it in a disposable bag to prevent the raw juices from getting onto other foods, especially raw foods like fruits and vegetables.
- When storing: Place the chicken in the disposable bag on the bottom of the refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping onto ready-to-eat foods.
- When handling: Always wash your hands with soapy water for at least 20 seconds before handling raw chicken. Do not wash the raw chicken. Instead, take the chicken out of the package and put it directly into the cooking pan. The heat from cooking will destroy bacteria that are present as long as you reach the proper internal cooking temperature. Use a thermometer to ensure that the chicken has reaching an internal cooking temperature of 165-degrees Fahrenheit.
- When prepping: If you need to prep the chicken, including removing the skin or breading, use a separate cutting board and knife for raw chicken. Never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate or cutting board that has been in direct contact with raw chicken. Always wash the plate or cutting board first with hot soapy water.
- When storing leftovers: If you do have leftovers, refrigerate or freeze the chicken within two hours, or within one hour if the temperature is over 90-degrees Fahrenheit.
If you’re in the habit of washing your chicken before cooking….stop it! You can get someone sick. To minimize the risk of food poisoning in your home, handle your chicken with care from when you purchase it until you cook it.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.