Washing raw poultry increases risk of illness, USDA study

Contrary to some public opinion, washing raw chicken and other poultry increases the risk of illness.

A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that it's hard to thoroughly clean surfaces the poultry may come in contact with.

"Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and food," said Mindy Brashears, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that millions of Americans are sickened with foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

The USDA recommend three options to help prevent illness when preparing poultry or meat.

1. Significantly decrease risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, before handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.

  • Of the participants who washed their raw poultry, 60 percent had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning is that 14 percent still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink.

  • 26 percent of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready to eat salad lettuce.

  • 2. Thoroughly clean and sanitize any surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated from raw meat and poultry, or their juices.

  • Of the participants that did not wash their raw poultry, 31 percent still managed to get bacteria from the raw poultry onto their salad lettuce.

  • This high rate of cross-contamination was likely due to a lack of effective handwashing and contamination of the sink and utensils.

  • Clean sinks and countertops with hot soapy water and then apply a sanitizer.

  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry. Wet your hands with water, lather with soap and then scrub your hands for 20 seconds.

  • 3. Destroy any illness causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.

  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) are safe to eat at 145F.

  • Ground meats (burgers) are safe to eat at 160F.

  • Poultry (whole or ground) are safe to eat at 165F.

  • Washing, rinsing, or brining meat and poultry in salt water, vinegar or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria. If there is anything on your raw poultry that you want to remove, pat the area with a damp paper towel and immediately wash your hands.

  • More information on this study is available in an executive summary.
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