To Wash Or Not To Wash? That is the question.

  • Raw chicken

According to the USDA, washing your poultry and beef using faucet water is not a safe option. As a child, washing meat products was a common practice in our home. My mother would purchase the groceries and the kids would take all of the beef, pork, and chicken out of its original package and we would wash the chicken; submerging it into a sink full of cold water while pulling or burning off any feathers that were left on. We would then repackage the meat in Ziploc bags, and then place it all in a freezer for later consumption. I never liked that experience because it left my hands feeling pretty yucky!

Now that I am thinking about it, I don’t remember sanitizing the counter or sink before or after the cleaning process. Uh Oh!! However, cleaning the poultry seemed like the smart and healthy thing to do, right? Although, the leading food sanitation text book recommends food service operations to wash poultry, fish, and a variety of meats before cooking . . . the USDA says, “No”. “Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces”.

Dr. Milton Daley, Biomedical Toxicologist & Animal Nutritionist at Prairie View A&M University, explains how to be safe when cleaning poultry at home using organic acids; which could decrease the levels of bacteria that could grow quickly on poultry. Additionally, other research scientists showed that “an alternative for the prevention of Salmonella outbreaks due to consumption of meat and poultry products, are organic acids”.

Here are three common organic acids recommended to use in washing poultry:

  • Acetic (ex. Vinegar)
  • Citric (ex. lemons, limes.)
  • Propionic & Butyric (ex. Commonly used at the industry level)

Cross contamination can occur when washing meats and poultry in the same vicinity with other foods. Therefore, it is essential that countertops, cutting boards, sinks, and utensils are cleaned thoroughly; including your hands. The best method for killing the bacteria found in meat products is to cook foods at an appropriate temperature.

In addition, after cooking, for safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.

Remember the four basic food safety principles that work together to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses:

  • Clean hands, food contact surfaces, and vegetables
  • Separate raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, storing, and preparing foods.
  • Cook foods to a safe temperature
  • Chill (refrigerate) perishable foods promptly

So, sorry momma, we were doing it all wrong. It is not recommended to simply submerge your poultry in water to clean it. By using the organic acids mentioned, we can prevent chances of salmonella outbreaks. I don’t know about you, but I am officially hungry for chicken.

Danielle Hairston-Green


Danielle Hairston-Green, Ph.D.
Program Specialist, Family and Consumer Sciences
(936) 261-5118