Warning: Don't wash your raw chicken, researchers say

Researchers from Drexel University are warning members of the public to stop washing their chickens because not only is it ineffective in killing germs, it can even spread bacteria, raising the risk of food contamination.

Using an animated "Germ-Vision" YouTube clip, the researchers illustrated how bacteria can fly right off the chicken and onto any surface within a two to three foot radius of where the chicken is rinsed.

What happens is that the bacteria can ride on misting water droplets, contaminating a larger surface than the immediate area where the food is being prepared. This process is known as "aerosolisation" and can give pathogens such as salmonella or campylobacter bacteria a means of locomotion to other foods lying around like your vegetables, cutlery or plates.

"Washing doesn't sanitise," said Dr Jennifer Quinlan, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University. NBC News reported that she spearheaded the public awareness project on a grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has for years advised against rinsing or soaking chicken prior to cooking.

On its official website, USDA states: "Washing raw poultry before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. This is called cross-contamination. Rinsing or soaking chicken does not destroy bacteria. Only cooking will destroy any bacteria that might be present on fresh chicken."

And don't think running the faucet water slowly eliminates the risk. According to Dr Quinlan, there is no defined "safe water speed" by science. "Any time you introduce water or a rinse, you are disturbing the bacteria on the raw poultry and making it likelier that those buggies will fly off your meat and onto some other kitchen surface - or onto you," she told NPR.org.

Instead, Dr Quinlan advises the public to just stick the chicken in the oven or on the grill to kill the bacteria. The chicken needs to cook thoroughly until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

In addition, follow other common sense precautions such as separating raw meats and poultry from other foods, refrigerating meats promptly after purchase, and washing hands and surfaces often with soap and water.

Quinlan's focus-group surveys suggest as many as 90 per cent of people rinse their raw birds, and the majority give the reason that the fowl is slimy or that they were taught to do so.

"If your chicken is so slimy that it needs washing, something is wrong," she said. And if slime is really the issue, Dr Quinlan advises to just take a dry paper towel and blot it off.

The point if, if you are rinsing your chicken for taste considerations, do so with proper precautions. But if you are doing it under the misguided belief that it makes it safer, stop.

"My response: try it once," said Dr Quinlan. "Make your chicken without washing it once. If it doesn't taste any different, ask yourself, why are you washing it?"

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