The debate on whether or not to wash raw poultry is a fierce one, but until recently it was not a debate backed by science. A recent study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) further demonstrates that individuals are putting themselves at risk of illness when they wash or rinse raw poultry.
“During this year’s study, 26 percent of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready to eat salad lettuce,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “Fortunately, small changes in the kitchen can lead to big health benefits for you and your family. Not washing meat and poultry reduces your risk of cross-contamination and can keep your family safe from foodborne illness.”
Many individuals may be unknowingly contaminating foods and causing illness for themselves or their family members. The good news is that the USDA has a few easy options to help prevent illness when you are preparing meat and poultry.
- Significantly decrease your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, BEFORE handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
- Of the participants who washed their raw poultry, 60% had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning was that 14% of participants still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink.
- Thoroughly clean and sanitize ANY surface that has potentially touched or been otherwise contaminated from raw meat and poultry, or their juices.
- Of the participants that did not wash their raw poultry, 31% still managed to get bacteria from the raw poultry onto their salad lettuce.
- This high rate of cross-contamination was likely due to a lack of effective handwashing and contamination of the sink and utensils.
- Clean sinks and countertops with hot soapy water and then apply a sanitizer.
- Use one cutting board for raw meat and poultry a different one for fruit, vegetables and cooked foods.
- Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry. Wet your hands with water, lather with soap and then make sure you scrub your hands for 20 seconds.
- Destroy any illness causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.
- Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) are safe to eat at 145°F.
- Ground meats (burgers) are safe to eat at 160°F.
- Poultry (whole or ground) are safe to eat at 165°F.
- Washing, rinsing, or brining meat and poultry in salt water, vinegar or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria.
If you would like to talk about different options for preventing foodborne illness, you are in luck! You can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, or email or chat at AskKaren.gov.