STOP! Don’t Rinse That Raw Chicken!

Rinsed ChickenI confess. All my cooking life, I’ve been rinsing off raw turkey (inside and out), chicken, and fish (but not meat) before preparing it for cooking.  I don’t remember who told me to do this or why I’ve been rinsing poultry.  I know why I’ve been rinsing the fish—because I start by soaking it in milk (to get rid of any “fishy” odor), and then I rinse to get rid of the milk.  Maybe you’ve been treating your raw entrées the same way.



Today, the consensus among food scientists is that there is no good reason to rinse these products before cooking them and, more important, a good reason not to do it. Dr. Catherine Cutter, a food scientist at Pennsylvania State University and a member of this site’s Advisory Board, explains.



Q. Why shouldn’t I rinse poultry, chicken, or fish?



A. Assuming you’ve purchased these from a butcher, I don’t advise rinsing these raw items.  (Of course, if you are raising and slaughtering your own animals, then you’ll need to wash off any feathers, fecal debris, or blood.)  Here are the reasons why microbiologists are now advising against rinsing:



l)   Although washing surfaces with water can reduce the level of microbes, we know that washing poultry carcasses at home may not remove many of the microbes that can hide in the nooks and crannies (under wings and legs or in the cavity).



2)   Poultry products purchased at the grocery store will have some purge (liquid) in the package. The purge is made up of proteins, fat, and lots of water which bacteria can use to grow, especially at room temperature.  However, when you rinse these products off, not only are you adding additional moisture that bacteria need, but  droplets of purge and/or moisture from the wet carcass can spread bacteria from the poultry surfaces to your sink and onto your dish rack, sponge, and counter.  Then, if you don’t do a really thorough job of   cleaning up your kitchen, you’ve created the perfect environment for cross-contamination.   It’s much safer to remove the poultry product from the store packaging and put it right into a cooking pan. Then, thoroughly clean your surfaces with warm soapy water and sanitize with a disinfectant, dilute bleach solution, or antimicrobial wipe.



Q. Does rinsing or not rinsing raw poultry, meat, or fish have any effect on its taste?



A. Rinsing with water may remove some proteins and fats that may be responsible for some of the flavors, but it won’t remove any inherent flavors associated with the muscle itself. 



Q. Do scientists know what percentage of the raw poultry Americans bring home is contaminated?  What pathogens are likely to be involved?



A. In 2010, USDA-FSIS analyzed samples in poultry processors and found the rate of Salmonella was 6.7% in broilers, 18.8% in ground chicken, 10.2% in ground turkey, and 4.6% in turkeys.


Q. What if consumers want to rinse off raw poultry and fish?



A. Then the clean-up process must be more extensive and thorough.  But even if the products   are not rinsed, clean-up is a good idea if the product came in contact with the sink, counters, and so on at all.



Q. What are some tips about adequate clean-up procedures after handling raw foods?



A. Begin by washing your hands well. Put all plates, pots, utensils, etc. that have come in contact with the raw product into the dishwasher. After that, clean the sink, counters, and anything else touched by the raw product or its drippings. Doing an adequate job requires a 2-step process, first cleaning and then sanitizing.



1. Cleaning: Use warm soapy water (dishwashing soap, etc.) on the sink, counter, and dish rack that the raw product might have touched or spattered on. 



2. Sanitizing:  Use antimicrobial wipes, antibacterial sprays (such as 409 or Fantastik) or any other product that has an antimicrobial component.  You can also use greatly diluted bleach (see manufacturers’ instructions), but there’s always a risk that it will splatter and damage your clothing.



Warnings about bleach: Don’t mix bleach with other products, such as ammonia, since it can create fumes strong enough to knock you out.  Also, if you are using a diluted bleach solution (the cheapest sanitizer), make it fresh each time since bleach breaks down over time. Read the bottle for instructions, or check the website of the brand you’re using to see what recommendations there are for diluting it.



If you’re using a product that is both a cleaner and a sanitizer, it’s a good idea to go over the contaminated area twice since sanitizers won’t do an adequate job on a dirty surface.


If you do get droplets from raw products on and in your sponge, here are a few methods you can use to sanitize it:



-   Put the WET sponge into the microwave for 1-2 minutes (time and energy may vary due to differences in microwave energy).   NOTE: If you put a DRY sponge in the microwave, you’ll run the risk of starting a fire.   



-Boil it in a pot of water on the stove, and let it air dry. 



-Put it through a dishwasher cycle with a heated drying step. The moist heat does a great job of killing bacteria in the sponge.



After handling raw produce, cleaning and sanitizing are also necessary to ensure a safe kitchen.



Q. Do you think most home cooks are careful about keeping their kitchens clean and sanitary?



A. There have been studies involving cameras set up in kitchens to view food safety practices. It’s amazing what people will do in their kitchen sinks.  They may wash aquariums, let small animals run around in the sink, and do other contaminating things and then, without taking time to clean the sink, wash baby bottles or prepare food.  Other studies have shown that the kitchen is more contaminated than the bathroom, and this is primarily because of cross-contamination from raw foods or from improper sanitation.  In other words, people are more likely to clean and sanitize their bathrooms than their kitchens. 



Cross-contamination is thought to be one of the main causes  of food-borne illness that originates in the home.   The pathogens in the chicken will be killed by cooking, but the raw lettuce, tomato, or bread that’s put on a contaminated counter or cutting board has the potential to make people sick. 



Related articles on this site: “Must I banish sponges from my kitchen to avoid the risk of contamination?”






Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science “Progress Report on Salmonella Testing of Raw Meat and Poultry”



"Don't Wash Your Chicken Before You Cook It and 9 Other Surprising Tips"






I cannot get past the appearnce of the avocado colored water in which commerically butchered chickens were soaking, just as they were to go into the  packaging queue.  Was it 60 Minutes that gave us that decades ago????  I will always be compelled to wash the poultry just before cooking.


You must be logged in to post a comment or question.

Sign In or Register for free.