Recently my husband consulted me about something he had read that surprised him. He was reading the article “101 secrets from our experts – The insider’s guide to practically everything” in the May 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. One of the 101 secrets in this article was this advice: “Never wash or rinse raw chicken in the sink. You’ll splash germs around the kitchen and risk food poisoning.”
I assured him this is indeed the recommendation from the USDA. He then asked, “Well, where are you supposed to wash the chicken if you can’t do it in the kitchen sink?” Visions of whole raw chickens in our utility sink in the basement popped into my mind. The answer is that the experts don’t recommend you wash the chicken at all before cooking it. Washing probably won’t remove harmful bacteria and will likely spread them around your kitchen. Cooking poultry to 165°F will destroy the most common culprits behind foodborne illness.
I know why he was so confused. Confession time: I wash all poultry before I cook it and a good share of other raw meat, too. Old habits die hard and I must not be the only one as Consumer Reports still considered it a “secret.” A quick Google search showed articles recommending not washing poultry written back in 2007. Six years ago: What’s taken me so long? Of course, I have known of the recommendation plus the science behind it and have felt guilty with each poultry bath I perform. At the same time, I also remember how appalled my mother was when she found out her sister didn’t wash chicken before cooking it. Back then (early 1970s), we chalked it up to her hippie ways, which also included taking the rack out of the oven to throw over the fire pit to make a grill.
They say if you say something out loud you are more likely to do it. So starting today, “I will not wash my raw meat and poultry before cooking it.” I will continue to wash my hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry. I also will continue to never put cooked meat back on the platter I had the raw meat on.
It’s summertime and the season for fresh produce – Yea! Like many who love home grown tomatoes, I long during winter for the taste of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. Now there have been some incidences of food borne illness from fresh produce, but don’t let that scare you off. I am guilty of snacking on cherry tomatoes and fresh peas right off the vine. But if planning to serve others, particularly young children, pregnant women, those over the age of 60 or on chronic medication, more caution is needed.
Just remember the W word – Wash! Wash your hands before harvesting or preparing fresh fruits or vegetables. Wash the food item before eating with cool running water, rub lightly if not a fragile item. Wash any knives or cutting boards used. Fresh produce often doesn’t get cooked, so there is not a kill step for any harmful micro-organisms that are naturally part of the soil, or have been transmitted to the produce. So Wash Up!
It is the season here in the Midwest for fresh produce and other goodies from Farmer’s Markets. Maybe some of you in warmer climates enjoy these year round – but for us in cold country, the months between June and August are prime time for Farmer’s Market. More and more, people enjoy these as a way to try unique produce varieties or sample a truly fresh head of lettuce. To be sure you are experiencing a locally grown product, check the rules at the Farmer’s Market you attend – some do allow vendors to sell products purchased from wholesalers while others require products to be home grown. It is a decision each market makes.
Farmer’s Markets are popular – each year they increase in number and the products offered. Some even offer take-home meals (of course food is prepared in a licensed kitchen and the appropriate vendor permits are in place) in addition to fresh produce and baked goods. You see, it gets pretty complicated when sorting through the food safety regulations. While there are few regs regarding sale of fresh unprocessed produce, certainly we have had some illnesses from these foods – from tomatoes last year and lettuce in the past. What happens is these foods are grown in the soil (which is a reservoir for some harmful bacteria); irrigated or washed with contaminated water; exposed to pathogens from animals or pets; and/or handled improperly by humans. And because there is often not a kill step by cooking, we eat these products (with high levels of bacteria or viruses) and may become sick. While we can’t really control for the birds flying overhead, there are action steps we should expect from the producer (aka Good Agricultural Practices or GAPs) and action steps we should take.
This doesn’t mean we have to cook our lettuce (or as someone asked me – wash it in vodka) but it does mean we become alert consumers. Assess general cleanliness of the farmer vendor’s food stand and does the product look like it has been cleaned? Check that there ice chests to keep product cool during hot summer months (remember bacteria grows very quickly between 70° F and 135° F and when there is moisture). Product quality stays higher if it is kept cook – so really this is a win-win situation. Does the producer package items or do all the patrons have the opportunity to paw through – and spread any germs (Norovirus comes to mind) from their hands to the food?
Enjoy the Farmer Market experience and the unique varieties of produce offered – but wash your hands and wash the product before eating.
We all know the proper care and handling of fresh produce – wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating. The SafeFood© Police are watching, right? As a SafeFood Advocate, I try to maintain a law abiding lifestyle. Usually, the rule of washing fresh produce is followed. But, like with any rule, there are exceptions I make for personal application, such as for items fresh from my garden.
Here is my confession…
Cherry tomatoes straight off the vine are soooooo good I am guilty of omitting the wash step with these. This wonderful taste first thing in the morning is my reward after exercising, Yes, sweaty hands and all, so make that a double crime! Extenuating circumstances exist: I am cautious in that blemished tomatoes are tossed for the birds. By blemish, I mean any tears in skin or evidence of bird droppings. The torn skin allows opportunity for bacteria to enter the item, and we all know that bird droppings is another name for bird poop – nothing I want to eat.
Strawberries are another item that do not always get a rinse before tasting. My harvest productivity ratio is about 50% (one for me, one for the basket). I don’t recommend this procedure if serving at risk folks or if sharing the garden bounty with a group of people. Yet for a 50-something year-old, I calculate the risk/benefit of life more closely – and taste of fresh produce straight from the garden is definitely a benefit with appropriate caution.
Enjoy the tastes of summer – particularly fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden. Choose wisely. Leave the blemished items behind. They are not worth the risk.