It’s important to teach young cooks just learning about food safety how important it is to use one set of plates and utensils for preparing and transporting uncooked protein (fish, meat, poultry) to the oven, stove or barbecue grill — then using fresh, clean plates and utensils to serve the cooked food. This avoids transferring bacteria to the cooked food. Now researchers have a new tip specifically for cooking chicken: It’s better not to wash your chicken before cooking it!
New Food Safety Recommendation: Don’t Wash Raw Chicken in the Sink Before Cooking It
By now, nearly everyone knows that when cooking raw protein like fish, chicken, hamburger or steak, the best practice is to not mix utensils and plates that touch uncooked food with those used to serve the final cooked meal.
What’s new is a recommendation from the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) urging people to avoid washing chicken before cooking it. That’s right. Don’t wash your chicken. It’s safer that way.
This seems completely unhygienic and counter-intuitive to most people!
Why Should We Skip Washing Chicken Before Cooking? That Sounds Crazy!
But there is sound scientific logic at work. Here is the back story: Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, outranking the more commonly known salmonella, E. coli and Listeria bacteria (all of which cause food poisoning).
The FSA estimates that four in five of the food poisoning cases they have identified came from contaminated poultry. Why is illness from eating chicken so common? Well UK food safety scientists have discovered a key contributing factor. It turns out the step of washing the chicken in the sink before cooking it — which seems so hygienic — actually causes the Campylobacter bacteria to spread around and make you sick.
How does this occur? Scientists discovered that washing a typical chicken in the sink causes a large number of very small liquid droplets — chock full of active Campylobacter bacteria — to splash all over the kitchen sink, adjacent countertop work surfaces and other cooking equipment near the sink. These tiny droplets also end up on your hands and your clothing. So that’s how you can unwittingly give you or one of your guests food poisoning.
The irony? If you cook chicken properly to a safe internal temperature of 165 F degrees, the campylobacter bacteria on the chicken that you were trying to remove by washing will be killed off by the heat. Thus, there’s no need to wash it beforehand.
Related Food Safety Tips for Buying, Transporting and Storing Chicken
Next time you purchase a whole chicken at the grocery store, take a few precautions.
Take advantage of plastic bags (many stores provide them nearby or you can ask the butcher) and double bag your chicken before you put it into your cart. It’s also a good idea to wash your hands at the store.
Once you are home, take more precautions.
If you plan to put the chicken in the freezer, it’s a good idea to put it inside a freezer bag (even if it’s already in a wrapper) to avoid contamination.
Take care when removing chicken from the freezer. When it’s time to defrost your chicken, the refrigerator defrosting method is considered the safest. (It may take a day or two to defrost this way)
Always defrost your chicken by placing in a bowl underneath that’s large enough to capture any liquids that might otherwise get transferred to other foods in your fridge. (This is critical for those fresh foods you might eat uncooked, like lettuce or fruit.)
When you’re ready to cook a chicken, be sure to clear away any other dishes from the sink. Place the chicken in the center of the sink, and slice open the plastic wrapping with a paring knife or kitchen shears. Drain the liquids. Avoid splashing. Remove the the plastic wrap carefully to avoid drips when transferring it to the trash.
Following these simple steps can help you and your guests avoid a painful bout of food poisoning.