USDA study: Washing raw poultry could put you, others at risk of getting sick

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Should you wash chicken before you cook it?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the answer is a resounding no.

The agency said people are putting themselves and others at risk when they wash or rinse raw poultry. The USDA conducted a study on the issue and found that bacteria can easily spread elsewhere.

“Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods. The best practice is not to wash poultry,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that millions of Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

The USDA offered the following recommendations:

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 percent had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning is that 14 percent still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink.
  • 26 percent of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready to eat salad lettuce.

Thoroughly clean and sanitize ANY surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated from raw meat and poultry, or their juices.

  • Of the participants that did not wash their raw poultry, 31 percent 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.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry. Wet your hands with water, lather with soap and then 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.
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