To wash or not to wash raw chicken – that is a question that may not even occur to home cooks. Running the tap may feel like second nature to wash off the excess sliminess before dousing chicken portions in spices and marinades.
But food safety specialist Dr Lucia Anelich warns that washing your chicken before cooking it, may be doing more harm than good. Anelich tells Health For Mzansi that “raw chicken may contain two types of bacteria, Salmonella and Campylobacter, both of which cause foodborne illness.”
Even though you may not see it, splashing water from washing chicken under a tap can spread the bacteria onto the hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment in your kitchen.
Water droplets can travel more than 50cm in every direction. Only a few Campylobacter cells are needed to cause food poisoning.
“If one washes the raw chicken, one distributes those bacteria in and around the kitchen sink as they become detached from the surface of the chicken,” Anelich explains. “Thereafter, one may then wash ready-to-eat veggies like lettuce, cucumber etc. Cross-contamination will occur, meaning the bacteria on the surfaces of the kitchen sink will be transferred to the veggies, which are eaten without cooking beforehand, thus potentially causing foodborne illness,” she adds.
@cookwithleo Stop “washing” chicken! You’re not really washing it and it doesn’t kill anything #chicken #washingchicken #cleanchicken #rinsechicken ♬ original sound – Cook with Leo
Where does our urge to wash chicken come from?
If your grandmother’s roast called for the rinsing of the bird before cooking it, then odds are that this is why you will still be doing it decades later.
But according to interim chair of food and nutrition at Drexel University in the United States Professor Jennifer Quinlan, changing poultry regulations could also be the reason why people wash their chicken. She tells Inverse, “Fifty to 75 years ago, chicken was processed differently. Maybe you did need to wash something off — maybe there were still feathers there or something.”
What is the proper way to handle chicken?
Simply cook it, says Anelich. “Cooking kills both these bacteria, therefore removing the chicken from its packaging and cooking it directly and thoroughly as is, or after seasoning, is the best way to handle raw chicken in the kitchen. Remember to wash hands, kitchen surfaces and all utensils and equipment well after handling or working with raw chicken,” she says.
Food Consulting Services has the following tips on how to handle chicken:
- Place poultry in a disposable bag before putting it in your shopping cart or refrigerator to avoid raw juices from coming into contact with other foods.
- Wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling chicken.
- Use a separate cutting board for the raw chicken to avoid cross contamination.
- Never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate, cutting board or other surfaces that previously held raw chicken.
- Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing chicken and before you prepare the next item.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure chicken is cooked to a safe internal temperature of 75°C.
- If cooking frozen, raw poultry in a microwavable meal, handle it as you would fresh, raw chicken. Follow cooking directions carefully to prevent food poisoning.
- If you think the chicken you are served at a restaurant or anywhere else is not fully cooked, send it back for more cooking.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftover chicken as soon as possible. Foods should never be between 20 – 45°C.