Don’t Panic! Your Questions on (Not) Washing Raw Chickens
Without meaning to, I seem to have sparked a “small #chickensh*tstorm,” as food writer Michael Ruhlman put it, with my recent post about why you shouldn’t wash your raw poultry. The strong, even vituperative responses to the post surprised me. I didn’t anticipate that Americans would be quite so passionate about poultry hygiene.
Julia Child Was Wrong: Don’t Wash Your Raw Chicken, Folks
To be absolutely clear, the advice not to wash your chickens is longstanding. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been cautioning against the practice for many years, and food safety experts widely agree it’s a bad idea, because it raises the risk of spreading dangerous bacteria found on raw poultry all over your kitchen. As we told you before, food safety researchers say cooking your bird until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees is the only thing you have to do to kill the bacteria found on raw birds.
Still, chicken washing is a part of most people’s kitchen routine — including top chefs, many of whom recommend the practice in their TV shows and cookbooks. (My story used Julia Child as a famous example — though Jacques Pepin, we should note, publicly questioned his good friend Child on the value of this habit.) And from comments on The Salt and elsewhere on the Internet, it’s clear that many of you still have questions about what to do with your raw birds — or are just downright resistant to dropping the rinsing habit.
So, in an effort to clear the confusion and tamp down any panic, I’ve asked food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan of Drexel University to help tackle some of the most frequently asked questions. Seriously, folks, there’s no reason to freak out.
Is it safe for me to marinate, brine and/or kosher poultry before cooking to enhance the flavor?
Of course. Go ahead and prepare the chicken whichever way you like, Quinlan says, but be aware that any liquid you use — be it a marinade or whatever — will then be contaminated with dangerous bacteria. Treat it as such. Use the basic rule of “separate, don’t cross contaminate.” In other words, use the same common-sense precautions that apply whenever you handle raw meat.
I rinse or marinate my chicken in a lime/lemon/or vinegar juice wash. Doesn’t that kill the bacteria that might splash off the bird?
No, there’s no reason to think that adding a bit of acid to your water will kill the pathogens present either in the rinse or on the chicken, Quinlan says. Marinate for taste, if you like, but not for safety. And treat the rinse or marinade as a contaminated product — throw it away with caution.
What if I run the faucet water very slowly when rinsing my chicken, and I always disinfect my countertops and kitchen sink thoroughly with bleach afterward? I should be fine, no?
Food safety researchers haven’t really defined a “safe water speed” for rinsing raw poultry. 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. “I can’t make you not take the risk, ” Quinlan says, “but you need to know what you are dealing with.” If you rinse your chicken out of safety concerns, just stop, she says, because you are making it less safe. If you are doing it to enhance flavor, that’s fine, but use proper precautions.