The Real Reason You Should Never Wash Raw Chicken

Food safety experts have come down hard on the way many of us prepare dinner. Apparently, too many of us have been handling America's favorite meat — chicken — all wrong. The debate over whether or not to wash chicken before cooking it has raged in culinary circles for decades, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is trying to finally lay the issue to rest by giving an emphatic, science-based answer: no.

As we've all learned in recent years, it's possible for raw chicken to carry pathogenic bacteria, including Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter (via Health). These bacteria, if ingested, can cause serious illness in the form of food poisoning.

The problem with washing chicken in the kitchen sink is that the germy liquid is likely to end up everywhere — on countertops, utensils, and even the cook. Argyris K. Magoulas, a USDA technical information specialist, told Today, "The problem is that you can splash, which can cross-contaminate." And if the chicken juice ends up on other foods or utensils, that could be a problem.

Washing chicken in the sink can spread bacteria

Most people who consistently wash their chicken do so either to remove germs or to get rid of the slime which can sometimes accumulate in the package if it's been sitting for a while. So far as eliminating germs go, we can safely say that washing chicken is an ineffective way of going about it. According to Darin Detwiler, Ph.D., a professor of food policy at Northeastern University and a food safety expert (via SELF), "The heat from cooking handles most of the pathogens on raw chicken. Washing will not help this at all. The only real 'kill step' is to cook the bird to the appropriate temperature throughout." That "appropriate temperature," by the way, is 165 F for all poultry.

Fair enough. When it comes to the issue of being slimy, though, devoted chicken-washers might need more convincing. Luca Corazzina, executive chef at 312 Chicago, says, "If you buy fresh, skinless chicken breast, it doesn't need to be washed. If you buy chicken from your supermarket that has been sitting in its own blood and juices for a few days, you will probably feel better giving it a quick rinse." Thankfully, Mr. Magoulas has come up with a safer way to 'wash.' Just soak the chicken in water (without splashing), and leave it in the refrigerator for up to two hours before cooking.