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Should you wash raw chicken?

Experts opinion.

By Christodoulos PeratikouPublished 7 months ago 4 min read
Photo by Brett Jordan: https://www.pexels.com/photo/herd-of-hen-840111/

Should you wash raw chicken? Experts opinion.

In an Ethiopian-Jewish community in Israel, chef Beejhy Bathany grew up. Today, she is a chef and owner of the Tsion Café in Harlem, New York, and she answers the big question: should you wash chicken?

The question of whether or not to wash chicken has two sides. While experts, including those from the CDC, advise against the practice, warning that washing chicken can spread harmful pathogens, there is also the tradition that says otherwise.

“No matter what they say, I’m going to keep washing my chicken,” Bathany says. “This is something that’s been done for centuries.”

For Bathany, soaking chicken in salt and lemon water is both a functional and ritual practice, as salting chicken is required by kosher Jewish law.

However, she is not alone in this belief. Despite ongoing campaigns discouraging people from washing chicken, research shows that the majority of consumers are either unaware of the advice or simply choose to ignore it. “The recommendation has been around at least since 2005 from the USDA,” says Shauna Henley, a senior educator of family and consumer sciences at the University of Maryland.

So what’s the deal with washing chicken? Food scientists and culinary professionals examine the origins of this practice and the reasons why it persists.

Raw chicken: What science says about washing it

Experts say that while the traditional practice of washing chicken and turkey is hard to put on the shelf, because it poses the risk of spreading diseases such as salmonella and campylobacter, it must be abandoned.

Jennifer Quinlan, a professor of nutrition sciences at Drexel University, says, “Bacteria can’t jump, they can’t move. But once you put water on them, you’re giving them a way to move.”

Betty Feng, a professor of food science at Purdue University, adds, “Washing meat before cooking doesn’t really help. All it does is splash, and that could contaminate a lot of your kitchen surfaces, your sink, possibly your clothes, anything you have nearby.”

A 2022 study found that submerging meat in a bowl of water reduced splatter but not the spread of microbes. Observing participants as they prepared meals, researchers also found higher levels of E. coli in the sink than on the surrounding counters, regardless of whether people washed or did not wash their chicken.

“I would treat the entire sink basin just like the outside of the chicken, it’s a biological hazard,” says Benjamin Chapman, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at North Carolina State University.

Soaking or rinsing uncooked meat in salt water and acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, is a common form of “washing” in some cultures.

Although this process is thought to clean and add flavor, this is not true. Experts are adamant that washing raw meat is simply not worth the risk.

“The way we make chicken (or turkey) safe to eat is through cooking, not through the removal of pathogens,” Chapman says. “Heat kills 10,000 times more than rinsing.”

Why some people still wash chicken

Kathleen Glass, deputy director of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that washing chicken likely originated from cultures around the world as a way to get rid of non-edible material that was left on freshly slaughtered meat.

Before industrialized food processing (and today in communities that still slaughter their own meat), washing was an important line of defense against dirt, debris, and perhaps also the host of pathogens that live on raw meat.

“I grew up on a farm and we butchered our own chickens and beef and pork. And washing was part of the butchering process,” she says. But over time, these safety precautions have become codified and passed down as a culinary tradition. Even with industrial meat processing procedures, including a rigorous cleaning foundation, washing meat continues.

A 2015 study of over 1,500 consumers in the United States found that nearly 70% rinse or wash their poultry before cooking it.

Scientists who conducted research on consumer meat handling practices say that, for some, it’s a matter of personal preference. “We saw that whether someone is white, black, Asian, Hispanic, it didn’t matter. Everyone rinsed poultry to some extent” because that’s how they learned from a young age.

Family, tradition, and habit in washing chicken

For some, washing meat is deeply rooted in the preparation of specific dishes. Ji Hye Kim, chef and owner of Miss Kim in Ann Arbor, Michigan, describes the practice as an integral part of Korean cuisine, particularly in the preparation of stews and broths. She learned from watching her mother that washing would remove impurities “so that she could have really clean stews or a clean broth.”

Some dishes in Chinee cuisine also require specific preparation of meat, and especially chicken. When making fried chicken wings, for example, there is a multi-step cleaning process that involves removing any feathers or other debris and scrubbing the wings under running water.

“As a chef, we are called to keep our traditions alive and continue to do things in a safe way,” she says. But she still washes and salts certain types of meat while cooking at home, a practice that is less about hygiene than about staying connected to her roots. “At home, you can do whatever you want,” she says. “These traditions, I think, will always be around.”

In the end, the decision of whether or not to wash chicken is a personal one. While experts strongly recommend against it, there are cultural and historical reasons why many people continue to do so. It is important to weigh the risks and benefits carefully before making a decision.

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About the Creator

Christodoulos Peratikou

I am a school teacher and a writer.I like meditation and i have tried a variety of techniques thirty years now. I also like spending some time playing in the garden and growing plants,flowers and taking care of trees.

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    CPWritten by Christodoulos Peratikou

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