How often do you wash your hands while cooking chicken? According to a new study, it may not be enough. The study, published in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), wanted to understand how to best educate people on safe poultry cooking practices, including washing the chicken and hand-washing.
Should you wash chicken before cooking it?
Recent communications from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have encouraged people to avoid washing poultry before cooking. According to them, cooking poultry at the correct temperature will kill any harmful bacteria. When you wash poultry in the sink beforehand, you risk contaminating your sink and anything else placed in there afterwards.1
The study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, tested the effectiveness of this advice on reducing bacterial contamination in the kitchen.
Ellen Shumaker, associate at North Carolina State University and co-author of the study, explained, “We also wanted to get a better idea of how, if at all, washing poultry actually led to increased contamination in the kitchen.”2
Those provided food safety recommendations were less likely to wash raw chicken
The research group collected 300 people who claimed to wash their chicken prior to cooking. The participants were divided into two groups.1
The group, consisting of 142 people, was provided three emails containing educational videos and infographics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on safe poultry preparation. Included in this information was the advice to not wash raw poultry.
The other group was composed of 158 people who were not provided any educational material.
Each participant was then asked to prepare chicken thighs and a salad in a video-monitored kitchen. Researchers monitored for any cross-contamination of the chicken with the sink, counter areas, and the salad.
Participants did not know that the chicken was contaminated with E. coli; this bacterial strain made it possible for researchers to test the lettuce, sink, and other areas for chicken contamination.
Of those in the group who received prior education, 93% did not wash the chicken, while in the other group, 39% did not wash the chicken. This suggested that the educational emails appeared to be effective at encouraging participants to not wash raw poultry.
However, researchers were surprised to find that, instead of promoting not washing raw chicken, a larger emphasis needs to be placed on encouraging sanitation in the kitchen.
A larger emphasis needs to be placed on cooking sanitation
Researchers tested the levels of E. coli in the sink and salad lettuce. They found that when people washed their chicken, up to 30% of them also contaminated their salad. However, those who did not wash their chicken were still more likely to contaminate their salad if they had not seen the prior education videos.1
“This was a little surprising, since the conventional wisdom had been that the risk associated with washing chicken was because water would splash off of the chicken and contaminate surrounding surfaces. Instead, the sink itself was becoming contaminated, even when the chicken wasn’t being washed”, Shumaker commented.2
Researchers speculate that a large point of concern is hand contamination between the chicken and salad.1Shumaker stated, “Washing the chicken is still not a good idea, but this study demonstrates the need to focus on preventing contamination of sinks and emphasizing the importance of hand-washing and cleaning and sanitizing surfaces.”2
Thus, future public food safety education should focus on encouraging proper hand washing and sanitation procedures to ensure public safety.
- Shumaker, E.T. et al. (2022). Observational Study of the Impact of a Food Safety Intervention on consumer Poultry Washing. Journal of Food Protection; 85(4): 615-625. Doi: 10.4315/JFP-21-397.
Shipman, M. (2022). In a food safety study, 25% of participants contaminated salad with raw chicken. EurekAlert!Accessed on Apr. 6, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/948619
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