We have learned the four basic food safety measures in previous articles: Clean, separate, cook and chill. To clean, we know that we must wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops and utensils with hot water and soap. Keeping hands clean by washing for 20 seconds with soap under warm, running water before and after handling food, fights bacteria. However, when it comes to washing poultry, the same idea that washing makes things clean does not apply.
Many people believe washing poultry (turkey, chicken, duck, etc.) makes it safer to eat. I often am told by consumers that the reason they wash poultry is to remove the ‘slime’ and juice that is on the flesh when removed from the packaging. Washing raw poultry (or even beef, pork, lamb or veal) before cooking it is not safe.
The 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans note: “Raw seafood, meat, and poultry should not be rinsed. Bacteria in these raw juices can spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces, leading to foodborne illness.”
Water does not kill bacteria. When poultry is washed under running water, bacteria (such as campylobacter and salmonella) in the raw poultry juices can splash and be spread to nearby food, utensils, kitchen towels and surfaces causing cross-contamination. Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead to foodborne illness. Unfortunately, knowing how wide spread the bacteria has traveled is uncertain. Therefore, the safest bet is to just not wash your poultry.
Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing food is not necessary. Using a food thermometer is the only sure way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria. Cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees is the only way to help ensure that the food that you and your family eats is safe. Cook all raw beef and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source.
So, what is one supposed to do instead when they feel the urge to give their poultry a rinse in the sink? A paper towel can be used to dry the surface of meat or poultry, or to remove small spots of congealed blood — then discard the paper towels.
For more information on food, health, and nutrition, visit Forsyth County Extension at ugaextension.org/county-offices/forsyth.html.
Forsyth County Extension is supported by The University of Georgia, Forsyth County Government, Forsyth County Board of Education, and United Way of Forsyth County.
Barbara Worley is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the UGA Extension Forsyth County.