There aren’t many instances when one can say that Julia Child was wrong, but here it is: Do NOT wash that raw chicken before you brine/marinate/grill/bake/saute/ or cook it in any way.
This is the news that NPR’s Maria Godoy reported last week, and based on her follow-up, it sounds like something that is causing a mild freak-out. For the record, I have never washed my chicken, or any raw fish or meat. It has always seemed to me that, just as you can’t rinse germs off of your hands and must use soap, the same holds true for meat. And I refuse to soap up a chicken. Plus, to be honest, I’m kind of lazy. There’s enough hand-washing and keeping my eyes on the cutting boards and knives for cross-contamination that one more step in that process is too much.
My instincts were correct. Here is the scoop from food safety researcher Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, an associate professor at Drexel University: “You should assume that if you have chicken, you have either Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria on it, if not both.” These are the two bacteria, she points out, that are the leading causes of food-borne illness. She goes on to explain, “If you wash it, you’re more likely to spray bacteria all over the kitchen and yourself.”
Ewww! THAT is something I didn’t know It turns out, as studies new suggest, that when you wash a chicken, those bacteria can spray up to 3 feet away from your sink. My Kitchen Aid and blender are within 2 feet of either side of my sink, and the cappuccino maker, toaster, wine rack, and bowls of fresh fruit and root vegetables are within 3 feet. It sounds like my counters are crammed. That would be true. But more importantly, that’s a LOT of potential contamination. I love this video Quinlan’s team at Drexel developed to illustrate:
Rinse water is not hot enough to kill bacteria, the only thing that will do the trick is cooking the chicken properly, which means the temperature in the centermost portion is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a meat thermometer to check; make sure you wait 10 seconds after inserting the thermometer to make sure it registers properly.
So if your chickens are running around your yard, feel free to soap them up if you like. But if they’re en route to the dinner table, skip the rinse.