Here’s why you should never wash chicken before cooking it

It’s the most polarizing problem in poultry—should you wash your chicken before cooking it? Food health and safety professionals are advising against this practice, as it can increase the spread of bacteria and the risk of cross-contamination. Don’t miss these other cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic.

Most people who clean their chickens think they’re washing germs or sliminess from the chicken. And while they’re correct in assuming that raw chicken is often teeming with bacteria, such as campylobacter or salmonella, washing it with water does nothing to combat this. In fact, washing your chicken actually worsens this problem, according to the UK National Health Service, because the running and splashing water can spread bacteria around sinks, countertops, and even your clothing. The USDA maintains that the only sure way to eliminate bacteria is to cook meat to the proper temperature, and these rules extend to other types of meat and fish as well. The minimum temperature of cooked chicken should be 165 degrees, and you can find the temperature for other types of meat in this table as well.

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Grilled Chicken with Asian Marinated Tomatoes by Food & Wine

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Curried Maple-Mustard Chicken Breasts by Food & Wine

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Honey Balsamic Mustard Glazed Chicken by Chef Billy Parisi

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Buffalo Chicken Parm Poppers by Oh, Bite It | Amy Erickson

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Slow Cooker Coca-Cola Chicken by Oh, Bite It | Amy Erickson

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Spicy Barbecued Chicken with Miso Corn by Food & Wine

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Healthier Slow Cooker Crack Chicken by Slimming Eats

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Honey-Ginger Chicken with Lime by Food & Wine

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Roast Chicken Panzanella by Food & Wine

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Crisp Chicken Thighs with Peas and Carrots by Food & Wine

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Easy Chicken Fajitas With Thai Mango Slaw And Coconut Rice by Half Baked Harvest | Tieghan Gerard

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Whole Roast Chicken With 40 Brussels Sprouts by Food & Wine

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Buffalo Chicken Casserole by Campbell's Kitchen    

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Sesame-Ginger Chicken Meatballs by Food & Wine

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Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Tarragon Creamed Corn by Kitchen Daily Editors

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Chicken, Fennel and Artichoke Fricassee by Martha Stewart

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Mini Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas by Campbell's Kitchen

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Five-Spice Chicken Banh Mi Sandwiches by Food & Wine

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Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup by Melanie Makes | Melanie Bauer

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Sticky Sweet Chili Chicken Wings by Savory Nothings | Nora Rusev

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Fresh Harissa & Yogurt Spiced Chicken Sandwiches by JJ Begonia | Carlynn Woolsey

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Spicy Asian Chicken Noodle Soup by Love and Olive Oil | Lindsay Landis

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Healthy Spinach Artichoke Chicken Pizza by Savory Nothings | Nora Rusev

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Chicken Tikka Masala by Food & Wine

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Butter-Roasted Chicken with Soy-Garlic Glaze by Food & Wine

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Wintertime "Barbecue" Chicken by SELF

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Strawberry Basil Chicken by The Kitchen Prep | Dianna Muscari

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Butcher Shop Chicken by Food & Wine

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Chicken Chile Verde by Food & Wine

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Cambodian Red Curry Chicken Wings by Food & Wine

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Braised Chicken and Noodles in a Creamy Garlic Sauce by In Sock Monkey Slippers | Meredith Steele

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Turmeric Chicken & Rice by Food & Wine

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Slow Cooker Healthy Creamy Chicken Casserole by The Magical Slow Cooker | Sarah Olson

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White Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas with Pomegranate by Cooking and Beer | Justine Sulia

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Chicken Caesar Skewers by Food & Wine

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40 Glove Garlic Chicken by Today's Nest | Sam Henderson

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Chicken & Wild Rice Soup by Food & Wine

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Crock Pot Chicken and Chickpea Stew with Tomatoes by Chef Billy Parisi

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Tea-Brined and Double-Fried Hot Chicken by Food & Wine

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Chicken Paprikash Over Dumplings by Carrie's Experimental Kitchen | Carrie Farias

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Creamy Rice, Chicken And Spinach Dinner by Philadelphia Cream Cheese

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken by Food & Wine

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Chicken Thigh Kebabs with Chile-Yogurt Sauce by Food & Wine

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Thai Chicken Pizza by Bacon Egg & Cheese{cake} | Shelley Liu

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BBQ Pulled Chicken with Balsamic Onions and Slaw by Chef Billy Parisi

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Yuzu Kosho-Glazed Chicken Drumsticks by Perry's Plate | Natalie Perry

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Korean Fried Chicken by Simply Delicious | Alida Ryder

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Barbeque Chicken Quesadillas by Curtis Stone

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Creamy Tomato-Basil Pasta With Chicken by Philadelphia Cream Cheese

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Chicken & Quinoa Salad with BBQ-Spiced Vinaigrette by JJ Begonia | Carlynn Woolsey

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Healthified Crock Pot Chicken & Dumplings by The Skinny Fork | Amanda Plott

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Braised Chicken with Pomegranate Molasses by Own Your Kitchen | Anne Burrell

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Creamy Lemon Chicken Pasta by Philadelphia Cream Cheese

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Kingside Roast Chicken by Marc Murphy 

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Easy Skillet Chicken Parm by Prego

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Open-Face Buffalo Chicken Subs with Ranch Slaw by Domesticate ME! | Serena Wolf

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Mini Chicken Pot Pies by Campbell's Kitchen

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Lemony Chicken Stir-Fry by Food & Wine

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Easiest Chicken Tacos by Food & Wine

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Tagliatelle with Braised Chicken and Figs by Food & Wine

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Chicken Nuggets by Deceptively Delicious | Jessica Seinfeld

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Chicken Quinoa Meatballs by Chez Us | Denise Woodward and Lenny Ferreira

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Coffee-Spice Chicken and Fruit-Basil Salsa by Kitchen Daily Editors

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Spicy Asian-Chicken-Salad Lettuce Cups by Food & Wine

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Chicken Cordon Bleu by Kitchen Daily Editors

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Chicken and Cheese Poppers by Kitchen Daily Editors

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Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken Caprese by Well Plated by Erin | Erin Clarke

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Easy Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo by Philadelphia Cream Cheese

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Oven Fried Chicken Breasts by Food & Wine

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Even professional chefs have been divided on this issue. Julia Child was a staunch supporter of washing chicken, while Ina Garten more recently came out on her show to reinforce that there is no need to wash it or other meats. Garten’s side has the science to back it, and other than the potential hazards of washing chicken, there’s really no reason for it other than attachment to long-cultivated habits. Find out six foods you should never wash before cooking.

If you remain loyal to washing your chicken, however, as Drexel University food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan told NPR, try not washing it at least once to see if you can really notice a difference. If sliminess is an issue, try patting the chicken down with a paper towel. Should you decide to continue your washing habit, you’ll need to take measures to properly disinfect any surfaces the liquid or splashing may have come into contact with, to prevent cross-contamination, and wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat or any food or tool that has come into contact with it. Check out these rules you should always follow to avoid food poisoning.

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15 Common Food Poisoning Risks
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15 Common Food Poisoning Risks

Every year 48 million Americans, or roughly one in six people, get sick from foodborne illnesses, and about 3,000 cases each year are deadly. Find out which common foods carry the highest risk of food poisoning.

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Chicken

Between 1998 and 2010 in the United States, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reports that chicken accounted for 452 outbreaks that sickened 6,896 consumers, more than to any other meat or poultry product. Most outbreaks are caused by bacteria Clostridium perfringens, found in poorly prepared food or food left to stand too long, and bacteria Salmonella, which often contaminates poultry during slaughter and processing.

Image Credit: jupiterimages/Simon Murrell

Ground Beef

Ground beef carries a very high risk of foodborne illness because contamination with antibiotic-susceptible and resistant strains of E. coli and Salmonella can occur, leading to hospitalization, severe symptoms with long-term health effects or death.

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Eggs

Most illnesses from egg consumption are due to Salmonella, sickening more than 11,000 people from 1990 to 2006. Federal regulations in the 1970s have reduced transmission of Salmonella from external fecal contamination of the shells, but today's most common type, Salmonella enteritidis, infects the ovaries of healthy hens and is transmitted to the egg even before the shell is formed. Eating your eggs raw or runny can increase your risk of illness.

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Tuna

Scombroid is the leading cause of illness for tuna dishes and occurs when improperly stored fresh fish start to decay and release natural toxins. The SCPI's Outbreak Alert! database shows that more than 2,300 people have reported cases of scombroid poisoning, which can cause symptoms like abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea.

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Oysters

Most cases of illness with oysters occurred in restaurants and are attributed to Norovirus and bacteria Vibrio. While other foods can become contaminated with Norovirus from improper handling, oysters can pick up the bacteria from the waters they are harvested from, making them risky to serve raw or undercooked.

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Pork

The CSPI reports that pork (other than ham, sausage and barbecue) sickened more than 2,000 people from 1998 to 2010, and most pork illnesses were linked to Salmonella. Interestingly, more outbreaks occured at consumers' homes than in restaurants (40 percent compared to 24 percent of outbreaks).

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Turkey

From 1998 to 2010, there have been 130 turkey-related foodborne outbreaks that have caused 4,349 documented illnesses (second only to chicken among meat and poultry products) most commonly attributed to Clostridium perfringens. The CSPI explains that the spike of outbreaks in the months of November and December are due to improper handling of turkey holiday meals that are left out at room temperature for too long.

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Potatoes

Outbreaks with potato occur in potato salads and other potato dishes, and more than 30 percent of potato-related outbreaks are linked to Salmonella. Since these dishes contain many ingredients, the causes of contamination can occur from any of the raw ingredients or from improper handling of a raw meat or poultry ingredient.

Image Credit: Getty Images/Martin Child

Other Beef Products (Not Steak, Ground or Roast)

Other beef products, such as beef jerky, beef stroganoff and chipped beef, are responsible for 99 outbreaks and at least 2,414 illnesses from 1998 to 2010 according to the CSPI. Improper handling after cooking may explain most cases of illness.

Image Credit: Getty Images/Russel Wasserfall

Barbecue Beef or Pork

The barbecue cooking method is unique in that it cooks with low, indirect heat and requires after-cooking handling. The CSPI's study of meat-related foodborne illness deems it "medium risk" for causing nearly 2,500 people to get sick from 1998 to 2010, often from pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens that may be signs of improper handling. In addition, nearly 40 percent of these outbreaks occurred in a restaurant.

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Roast Beef

Traditional roast beef, brisket or pot roast involve oven-roasting thick cuts of meat in a shallow pan, boiling on a stovetop or cooking on a closed grill. According to CSPI, 2,470 people got sick from eating roast beef from 1998 to 2010, and more than half were sickened by Clostridiium perfringens, a sign that the meat stood at room temperature for too long before being served.

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Cheese

Cheese can become contaminated with pathogens during production, and most cases of illness were due to Salmonella. Nowadays, cheese is made with pasteurized milk which lowers the risk of illness; however, unlicensed manufacturers may still use unpasteurized milk, so consumers should be wary, especially for Latin American-style cheeses like queso fresco and queso oaxaca.

Image Credit: Corbis/Clinton Hussey

Steak

The popular cooking method for steaks is searing, when the meat's surface is cooked at high heat over a short period of time. Only the pathogens on the surface are killed, which might explain the 82 foodborne outbreaks that have caused nearly 2,000 illnesses form 1998 to 2010. More than half of these illnesses were linked to E. coli infections.

Image Credit: Corbis/Clinton Hussey

Leafy Greens

In an analysis of a decade of foodborne outbreak data in the U.S., a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that leafy vegetables account for the most illnesses, surprisingly outnumbering animal food categories like beef and poultry. The pathogen Norovirus, which can contaminate food when it is handled by a sick person, causes 46 percent of those illnesses.

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Ice Cream

The largest ice cream-related outbreak occurred in 1994, when an ice cream manufacturer used the same truck to haul unpasteurized liquid eggs and pasteurized ice cream premix. The Salmonella-contamined premix was used in ice cream products that sickened thousands of people across 41 states. Another major source of food poisoning is homemade ice cream due to the use of undercooked eggs.

Image Credit: Getty/Steve Baxter

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