The USDA sent out another press release a few days ago, reminding us not to wash raw poultry. This is a topic that comes up every so often with callers. Some callers resist our advice not to wash poultry. Washing raw poultry simply is not very effective. Splashing water and hands not washed well will spread bacteria from the raw poultry to many other places in the kitchen. This simply is not an effective method for ensuring a safe meal.
Callers often do not believe that they will end up with bacteria in their sink or counter tops that will not be easy to clean up. According to the USDA, 60% of people that washed raw poultry had bacteria in the sink after washing or rinsing poultry. About 14% still had detectable levels of bacteria in the sink after washing the sink. The researchers for the USDA also found that 26% of these people had also transferred bacteria to their ready to eat salads. Therefore, even if you try to clean up after washing poultry, there is no guarantee that you can remove it from the sink or be sure that it does not transfer to your salad. This is not an appetizing thought.
Even if participants in this study did not wash the raw poultry, 31% still managed to transfer bacteria from the poultry to their salad. Researchers speculated that this transfer occurred due to lack of handwashing and contamination of the countertop from the poultry. We often explain to consumers that it is hard to be conscious of the “little things” that we do to cross-contaminate in the kitchen. Consumers also tend to underestimate the value of handwashing.
We do remind callers to use a thermometer to check the temperature of poultry (and all other meats) every time. Thorough cooking will kill bacteria that is present on the meat. That is why we can tell callers that not washing poultry is safe. Cooking kills bacteria. Knowing we have reached the proper temperature inside the meat or poultry ensures a safe product.