Back in May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned consumers not to wash or rinse raw chicken before cooking it. While this has been a standard for the CDC, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen for years, the CDC's tweet still sparked some debate. Some agreed that there's no reason to rinse raw chicken, while others argued that it's necessary to wash off some of the sliminess that results from the packaging. But rinsing your raw chicken (or any meat) isn't just unnecessary—it can be dangerous. Thanks to a new study, the USDA is expanding on the CDC's previous warning.
Raw chicken, along with all raw meat, can carry bacteria, and when you rinse it with your faucet or sprayer in the sink, you risk splashing those bacteria all around your kitchen. The bacteria can splash down into your sink, and water with bacteria from the meat could splash on your counters, your clothes, and other food or utensils nearby. Any of those surfaces can become contaminated, and give you and your family food poisoning.
According to the USDA's new study, you shouldn't rinse raw meat or poultry. Not only does potentially harmful bacteria splash into the sink, but bacteria can accumulate in large numbers in the basin. This opens up the possibility of cross-contaminating other ready-to-eat foods like fruits and veggies, when washed in the same sink later.
It's not just rinsing chicken that can be dangerous—the USDA also mentions avoiding methods like submerging raw chicken in a bowl of water and using the packaging as a container to help rinse off your poultry.
Washing your meat won't kill off or get rid of any germs anyway; the best way to do that is to cook your chicken to a safe internal temperature of 165°F. And if you're bothered by the sliminess that sometimes comes with raw poultry straight out the packaging, try just patting your meat with a paper towel to dry it off before seasoning.
Tips for Handling Raw Poultry
If you're cooking up chicken breasts for dinner tonight or grilling a whole chicken keep food safety top of mind. Here are a few other tips you should always follow when you're working with raw chicken and other poultry:
Keep it clean. Always wash your hands, work surfaces, the sink, and utensils in hot, soapy water after handling raw poultry, to prevent spreading bacteria to other foods.
Cut right. When cutting raw poultry, use a plastic cutting board; it's easier to clean and disinfect than a wooden one.
Don't stuff it early. If you're planning to stuff a whole bird, do so immediately before cooking. Never allow the stuffing to touch raw poultry unless you are going to cook both right away.
Avoid cross-contamination. Never use the same plate or utensils for uncooked and cooked poultry unless you have thoroughly washed them first. This rule applies to basting brushes as well. If you are going to baste the bird, wash the brush each time.
Also, heat any marinade or basting sauce that has been in contact with the raw poultry if it is to be served with the cooked poultry. Juices from the uncooked poultry may contain bacteria. Or, before you start basting, set some of the sauce aside to serve with the poultry.
Keep it in the fridge. Never marinate or defrost poultry on the counter. Always keep poultry in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.
Serve poultry immediately after cooking it. Don't let it stand at room temperature longer than two hours, or bacteria will multiply rapidly -- especially in warm weather. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.
Reheat wisely. Heat leftover gravy to a rolling boil in a covered saucepan, stirring occasionally, for food-safety assurance.