A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] reveals that the majority of Americans are putting themselves and their families at risk of illness when they wash or rinse raw poultry before cooking it, by contaminating food preparation areas with potentially harmful bacteria.
The observational study found that 60% of participants who washed or rinsed raw poultry had bacteria in their sinks afterward. Even after efforts to clean and sanitize the sink after washing poultry, 14% still tested positive for bacteria. And 26% of participants who washed raw poultry transferred bacteria to their ready-to-eat salad lettuce. Of those who did not wash their poultry, 31% still had bacteria transfer in their salad lettuce, likely due to a lack of effective handwashing or cross-contamination of utensils.
“Cooking and mealtime is a special occasion for all of us as we come together with our families and friends,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety. “However, the public health implications of these findings should be of concern to everyone. Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods. The best practice is not to wash poultry.”
As a result of its study, the USDA now recommends three steps to help prevent illness when preparing poultry or other meats:
1. Prepare foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, before handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
2. Thoroughly clean and sanitize any surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated by raw meat and poultry, including your hands.
• Clean sinks and countertops with hot soapy water, then apply a sanitizer.
• Wash hands immediately in hot water after handling raw meat and poultry, by lathering with soap and scrubbing 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 as follows:
• Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, roasts and chops: 145°F.
• Ground meats: 160°F.
• Poultry [whole or ground] : 165°F.