Many of us were told from a young age to thoroughly rinse raw chicken with cold water before preparing it. It is standard procedure for most raw produce, as they carry contaminants and other microbes that are dirty, dangerous and at times fatal to humans.
Chicken must be prepared properly to eliminate the threat of Staphylococcus Aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Campylobacter jejuni and Listeria monocytogenes; bacteria that live in the intestines of poultry that may find their way into parts of the chicken that make it onto our plates.
Proper preparation and cooking ensure that we do not fall victim to the symptoms typically associated with eating off or uncooked foods; things I do not need to repeat, as I imagine we’ve all been there.
The USDA and the UK’s Food Standards Agency are calling explicit attention to the preparation of chicken, specifically the washing of it, as this method has been discovered to do more harm than good.
The Food Standards Agency claim: “The call comes as new figures show that 44 percent of people always wash chicken before cooking it – a practice that can spread campylobacter bacteria onto hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment through the splashing of water droplets.”
Whilst you’ve removed the slime and dirty feel of your chicken by running it under cold water, you have only removed some of the Salmonella and cross-contaminated many different surfaces with Campylobacter through aerosolization. Being in contact with Campylobacter could lead to poor bladder function and even paralysis.
Being in contact with Campylobacter will lead to food poisoning symptoms like salmonella but it could also lead to poor bladder function and even paralysis.
The best way to prevent such dire situations: don’t wash your chicken.
Speaking to Buzzfeed, USDA spokesperson Marianne H. Gravely said that the department “falls squarely in the ‘don’t wash your chicken camp”. She added: “some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed it.”
If you can’t shake off the uneasy feeling and want to make absolutely sure you have killed all icky stuff, use a food thermometer to make sure your meat has reached an internal temperature of 165°F/73.8°C.
Alternatively, you can use a paper towel to remove ‘slime’, if desired. You can throw the towel away when you’re done with it, reducing the threat of cross-contamination.
Experts understand that it is hard to change very traditional, cemented, cooking methods, and as a result has suggested that, if you still feel the need to clean your chicken, you should wash at a safe water speed.
Rinsing the chicken at a very low speed where you can control the flow of water around the chicken will reduce the chance of splashing and subsequent cross-contamination. Never rinse the chicken in warm/hot water as you are just cooking it partially and even worse, you may be actually waking up the bacteria, increasing the likelihood of them spreading.
Preparing your chicken on a clean board, close to where you’ve opened and (hopefully not) washed the chicken also reduces the risk of cross contamination. Make sure the board is cleaned before and after raw chicken makes contact with the wood or plastic. Only using one knife for chicken helps too.
This method of thinking might seem counter intuitive, but it’s science looking out for you. They want you to enjoy all the many different styles of chicken. Heed their words, and keep chomping down on the good stuff.