Quit Washing Your Chicken: It Just Sprays Germs Everywhere

Generations of American cooks are wrong. They learned their wrongity wrongity wrong habits from their parents, or from public television’s Julia Child. Their terrible, filthy habit is rinsing poultry before cooking. Public health experts estimate that as many as 90% of Americans do it, and they want us to cut it out.

Poultry-washing makes intuitive sense: you don’t know where that bird has been or what kind of bacteria are crawling on the outside. Julia Child herself admitted that washing a chicken before roasting it felt cleaner, even if the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the government agency in charge of making sure that our meat doesn’t kill us, said that there are no bacteria on the outside of a chicken that roasting won’t kill.

Yet she went ahead and did it anyway. Rinsing in plain cold water doesn’t do anything to disinfect your chicken. What it does help do is blast a fine spray of bacteria-laden mist across your hands, arms, counter, body, and anything unfortunate enough to be within 3 feet of the sink. See the illustration above.

Trying to get the word out, food-safety researchers have produced fotonovelas (like comics, but with photos) and mini domestic dramas spreading the message that washing chicken is bad and shouldn’t be done.

Should you wash your hands after you handle raw poultry and get it in to cook? Yes, definitely, with hot water and soap. But don’t worry about bathing the chicken.

Wash your Hands …Not your Poultry [University of Wisconsin] (PDF download)
Julia Child Was Wrong: Don’t Wash Your Raw Chicken, Folks [NPR]

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