Everyone should stop rinsing raw chicken under the faucet, food safety researchers warn. Rather than reducing food-borne bacteria, rinsing poultry spreads pathogens to other surfaces in your kitchen via water splatter, exacerbating contamination rather than preventing it. Now, a new campaign urges the public to drop the habit, as it increases the risk of serious food-borne illnesses like those caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria.
"There's no reason, from a scientific point of view, to think you're making it any safer, and in fact, you're making it less safe,” said researcher Jennifer Quinlan, speaking to NPR. Quinlan is a food safety researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and a spokesperson for “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” –– a university-backed public health campaign educating home cooks with video simulations and “photonovellas.”
“You should assume that if you have chicken, you have either Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria on it, if not both,” said Quinlan. “If you wash it, you’re more likely to spray bacteria all over the kitchen and yourself.”
She noted that the two bacteria are the leading causes of food-borne illnesses, and that any attempts to rinse them off are essentially meaningless. The water in your faucet is simply not hot enough to kill germs. Well-meaning cooks will instead cross-contaminate other surfaces within a three-foot radius of the sink.
“Some think they’re cleaning off germs. Some just want to get slime off or feel like it’s dirty,” she explained. “There are a range of reasons, including just feeling like they should do it –– ‘It’s raw, I should clean it.’”
For this reason, the habit may be difficult to eradicate, as it remains engrained in the minds of health-conscious cooks. Concomitant focus-group studies funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicate that a whopping 90 percent of the population washes their poultry before cooking it. After all, washing usually makes things both cleaner and safer.
If you, like the majority of Americans, have been washing your chicken until now, campaign officials urge you to peruse the new reports, as well as the educational photonovellas.
In addition, their “Germ-Vision" animation helps visualize the disconcerting spread of pathogens in your kitchen.