Should you wash your chicken?

Should you wash your chicken?

We’ve all heard the warnings – raw chicken can have harmful bacteria on it. As with other things that can be germy, like toys, door handles and even our hands, we naturally may think washing poultry would help.

But experts say otherwise. And there are good reasons why.

While raw chicken is often contaminated with bacteria that can cause food poisoning, rinsing or washing it can actually make the situation worse. The CDC says that during washing, chicken juices can splash and spatter in the kitchen, potentially contaminating your other food, utensils and countertops.

What you should do when cooking chicken and other poultry is to cook it properly and make sure other foods don’t become contaminated with juices from the raw meat.

“Whether baking, frying or grilling, it’s important the chicken reaches a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that can make you sick,” says Laura Steele, dietitian at Aurora Health Center in St. Francis, Wis. “And safely preparing vegetables and other foods for the meal is just as important and can be often overlooked.”

She recommends following these CDC guidelines when preparing and cooking chicken:

  • Before putting the raw chicken in your shopping cart or fridge, always place the meat in a disposable plastic bag to keep any juices from dripping onto other food and surfaces.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling chicken.
  • Again, do not rinse or wash the raw chicken to avoid spattering potentially contaminated juices.
  • Always use a separate cutting board, plate, knife and other utensils for raw chicken. Do not use these items for fresh produce and other foods.
  • After preparing the raw chicken, wash the cutting board, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water before handling the next food item.
  • Using a food thermometer, make sure the chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165o

Now is the perfect time to make an appointment with a primary care physician. Whether you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, it’s easy to find a doctor near you. 

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  1. Having grown up with a mother who was an R.N., I remember vividly her washing chicken in the kitchen sink. The most important take away from this procedure was the copious amounts of bleach she would follow up in cleaning the surrounding area as well as the sink. I’ve always contended that she would shake a splash of the bleach on the chicken and rinse vigorously to remove any residual bleach. NEVER did myself or my 3 siblings ever contract any food borne illnesses growing up.

    • exactly Jack Ross , my mom as well as I still wash chicken. Which is full of stuff including sometimes hairs and feathers.

  2. I can’t imagine not washing my poultry before preparing to cook. The handling meats go through before they hit your shopping cart gives me pause and anxiety. Cleaning and sanitizing areas before and after thoroughly cleaning raw meats has always been a must in my household.

  3. My mother who was also a nurse used to wash the chicken thoroughly in vinegar and water then clean the sink area. Washing any type of meat prior to cooking it seems to be a healthier option than not doing so.

  4. Given what poultry encounters during food processing, I can’t imagine not washing it, (meat and fish, as well) before cooking. We learned from our mom how to do it and we’ve never had any problem with food-borne illness. After washing the chicken we’d follow up by carefully washing all our tools, cutting board, and sink surfaces. with hot, soapy water.

  5. My mom was also a nurse – she not only washed chicken and other poultry, but all raw meat before cooking. I still do rinse most, myself. However, like the other commenters, the common thread seems to be that they/we always clean and sanitize the sink and counter area afterward, as well as all bowls and utensils used! At my house currently, this is done with a spray bottle of full-strength vinegar, which is left for about 5 minutes dwell time, then very hot soapy water as a followup. We’ve never gotten sick from our own cooking. (Eating out has occasionally been a different story.)

  6. I grew up in a black household. My great-grandma, grandmother, mom aunts and cousins ALL washed ANY meat prior to cooking it. I have carried on that same practice and will continue to do so without fail. I believe in the power of bleach and cleaning up after washing meat in the sink. We also put a capful of bleach in our dishwater (I rarely use my dishwasher). #carryingonthetradition

  7. I have never washed my chicken unless it was quite obviously dirty. I cook it well and that is that. I do sanitize my tools and wash my hands after handling.

  8. After reading these precautions about not washing chicken for several years now, I do not wash it, but make sure to dispose of chicken wrappings immediately without letting them touch other items and surfaces, and to place the chicken in the baking dish immediately. Of course all utensils used are placed immediately in the dishwasher. It does save all the bleaching and sink cleaning afterwards! Haven’t gotten ill thus far!

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About the Author

Mary Arens
Mary Arens

Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.