It’s a thing that many people do for cleanliness — wash their raw chicken. However, researchers are now advising against it, saying that this practice might increase the chances for food poisoning. According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, washing raw chicken spreads campylobacter bacteria, which causes food poisoning. 

“Campylobacter can be spread easily and just a few bacteria could cause illness. This could come from raw or undercooked chicken, or from contamination due to washing raw chicken. The easiest way to protect yourself and your family is to follow our simple food safety tips every time you prepare food,” the agency wrote in a statement.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency decided to focus on food poisoning and ways to protect families from it for their Food Safety Week 2014. The campaign is called “Don’t wash raw chicken.”

They recommend taking these precautions when handling chicken:

1. Cover and chill raw chicken

Cover raw chicken and store at the bottom of the fridge so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them with food poisoning bacteria such as campylobacter.

2. Don't wash raw chicken

Cooking will kill any bacteria present, including campylobacter, while washing chicken can spread germs by splashing.

3. Wash used utensils

Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards, and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling raw chicken. This helps stop the spread of campylobacter by avoiding cross contamination.

4. Cook chicken thoroughly

Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrhea-related illness in the United States. For every 10,000 Americans, 14 are diagnosed and many cases go unreported. It usually occurs more frequently in warmer months.

When people contract the bacteria, they usually recover in two to five days. However, approximately 76 people infected with the bacteria in the U.S. die each year from it. In the UK, 280,000 people are affected annually.

"Campylobacter is a serious issue," said Catherine Brown, chief executive of the FSA., BBC News reported. "Not only can it cause severe illness and death, but it costs the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year as a result of sickness absence and the burden on the National Health Service."

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story said 76 percent of people infected in the U.S. die from the bacteria. It was later edited to reflect the actual statistic: Approximately 76 people infected with the bacteria in the U.S. die each year.