Food & Drink

This week’s other great chicken debate: To wash or not wash before cooking?

Washing chicken does not get rid of germs

Washing chicken doesn't get rid of germs. Cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill germs. Use a food thermometer to check.
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Washing chicken doesn't get rid of germs. Cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill germs. Use a food thermometer to check.

The chicken sandwich debate, Popeye’s vs. Chick-Fil-A, comes down to personal taste and texture preferences.

But it’s not the Tradition vs. Science and How We Do vs. How You Do debate of Wash Your Chicken vs. Don’t Wash Your Chicken.

OK, really it’s about washing any raw poultry before cooking, and the USDA’s been saying this for years. The reasoning: All you’re doing is splashing the poultry bacteria around your sink, countertops and food contact surfaces, where it gets spread to other food.

Of course, this clashes with folks who will roar for many minutes that they’ve been washing their chicken before cooking for 40 years and nobody’s going to tell them different.

And, like parents over the years saying “See? See?” to children while brandishing some study on too much television/good weed/video games/social media, the USDA came out Wednesday with a website post with the title “Washing Raw Poultry: Our Science, Your Choice.”

Lot of attitude in that headline, but OK.

The USDA broke down an “observational study” it paid RTI International and North Carolina State University to do. Researchers watched people in test kitchens who said they washed their raw poultry before cooking.

“The results of the observational study showed how easy bacteria can be spread when surfaces are not effectively cleaned and sanitized,” the USDA said.

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Then the CDC jumped in Thursday afternoon with animated videos in English and Spanish demonstrating the USDA’s point.

Not all folks were convinced.

Also, online, some Caribbean voices said they would continue to wash their chicken, but actually wash their chicken. Tweeter @LolaaLaines (from “Miami Baby, FL”) agreed running water is pointless, but “Caribbean ppl clean their meat. Use lime land vinegar.”

In a Wednesday blog on the subject, food safety attorney Bill Marler agrees with the USDA’s recommendation, but asks, “Why does it continue to allow companies to knowingly sell us salmonella-tainted poultry?”

Instead of washing chicken, the USDA suggests:

Fix uncooked parts of the meal before dealing with raw meat or poultry.

Clean and sanitize all surfaces that might’ve touched raw meat, poultry or the juices from them.

“Destroy any illness causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.” That’s 165 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry, 160 for ground beef such as hamburgers, 145 for steaks, chops, roasts of beef, pork, lamb or veal.

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.