Should You Wash Chicken?

Should You Wash Chicken?

Skinless white meat chicken is a dietary staple for many who are committed to eating right and maintaining a healthy weight. It’s savory, versatile, packed with lean proteinand low in just about everything bad — except for bacteria. As with raw eggs, uncooked chicken can contain salmonella and other disease-causing germs.

For years, experts have urged caution and good hygiene practices when handling raw pieces of the bird. Many people thought they were doing precisely that by washing their chicken before cooking. Then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they were doing the exact opposite.

What does the CDC say about washing chicken?


A section of the internet promptly exploded — specifically, the part that had been taught by parents and grandparents that washing chicken was a pre-prep ritual necessary to rid the bird of germs.

But in reality, it’s cooking, not washing, that kills the bacteria on chicken.

“Unless you want to spread germs around your kitchen that can make you sick, never wash raw chicken,” says Samantha Thoms, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Vancouver. “You will kill the bacteria on the chicken once you cook it thoroughly to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The CDC also recommends:

  • Using a separate cutting board for raw chicken
  • Never resting cooked food or fresh produce on surfaces that previously held raw chicken
  • Washing your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling chicken

Why does washing chicken spread bacteria?

washing chicken

“Chicken is known to carry illness-causing germs like salmonella and campylobacter,” says Thoms. “When you wash chicken, contaminated water can splash on your faucet, the counter, your cooking utensils, and even your clothes. This increases the odds of spreading the germs around your kitchen and making you ill. This is especially true for those with weaker immune systems, such as young children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with chronic medical conditions.”

About

Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition and lifestyle reporting.