Tis the season to be merry, and in most homes across India and the world, chicken or turkey would be on the menu, and before it is cooked, the bird is usually rinsed as an integral step in the process of cooking it, but is it scientifically correct for us to wash it before cooking it?
For decades, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been advising against washing raw poultry and meat. “People are still shocked when we tell them” not to wash poultry, said Marianne Gravely, one of USDA’s food safety educators. “Back in the early ’90s we were saying that.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),says that foodborne pathogens sicken an estimated 48 million Americans every year, putting 128,000 in the hospital and killing 3,000.
Benjamin Chapman, associate professor, North Carolina State University’s agricultural and human sciences department says that washing chicken would not remove many bacteria, but it will spread germs to hands, work surfaces, clothing and nearby utensils or food also known as cross-contamination.
Cooking kills pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter, and people must use a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry safety, it should be 165 degrees for poultry; 160 degrees for ground meats; 145 degrees for steaks, chops, roasts, fresh or smoked ham, fish and shellfish.
A study conducted by Chapman in 2017 found that out of 1,500 recipes in New York Times Bestseller cookbooks, just 8% included an endpoint temperature and a third of those gave an incorrect one based on USDA guidelines.
There are two other steps which are vital in food handling: separation and cleaning.
Make it a point to store raw meat, poultry apart from fruits and veggies in your grocery bag, refrigerator and also during food preparation will help minimize cross-contamination.
Always wash food counters, cutting boards and utensils used in food preparation in hot, soapy water and thoroughly wash your hands properly with soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing food.
Research results from the study done by Chapman and colleagues showed that participants spread bacteria from raw meat to spice containers, refrigerator handles and even salads, that is why The Food and Drug Administration recommends rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables with cold running water.
Chapman said “Pathogens are just so small and the surface of produce is so creviced,” and added, “that the pathogens do a really good job attaching and hiding where water can’t even get to.”
The FDA advises not to use detergent or soap to wash fruits and vegetables as it can leave a residue and can affect taste.