You might be surprised to learn that many people don’t after they’ve handled raw poultry and the surfaces that have come into contact with it.

Cooking is a great way to show love to your family and friends. As a home cook, you’re also responsible for protecting yourself and your household from food-borne illness.

Keeping good kitchen hygiene is the best way to achieve this. Television chefs, cookbook authors, and food bloggers don’t talk and write enough on the topic. I’ve even seen some of them give out wrong advice!

“That’s all good, Jim,” some of you may be thinking, “but how likely is this to happen to me, anyway?” Good question. Statistically speaking, let’s see how big of a risk this is.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that roughly 1 of 6 Americans gets sick, and 128,000 get hospitalized because of food-borne illness every year.

Cross-contamination, the transfer of bacteria from one food to another due to poor hygiene or mishandling, is one of the biggest causes of the spread of food-borne illness in domestic conditions.

There are few foods for which this is more true than when handling raw chicken (and poultry as a whole).

According to the CDC, most raw poultry contains Campylobacter, which is known to cause campylobacteriosis, a diarrhoeal disease in humans. It also may contain SalmonellaClostridium perfringensE.coliYersinia, and other bacteria.

The good news is that all of these pathogens are susceptible to temperature changes, which means that they get killed by the internal temperature of the meat when it’s cooked through to the correct level of doneness.

This is also why, in case you’ve ever wondered, it’s helpful to have a meat thermometer at home. With one, you can ensure you’re roasting, broiling, frying, or grilling your birds to the minimum recommended internal temperature of 165°F every single time you cook.

But unless you wash your hands, clean the utensils, and sanitize the working surfaces that came into contact with the raw poultry, the bacteria from it will remain.

To prevent cross-contamination in your home kitchen, always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw chicken.

Sanitize your utensils and cutting boards (glass, plastic, or wooden) with hot soapy water after each use.

If you used a soft sponge and didn’t throw it away, it’s a good idea to sanitize it by submerging it in a 9:1 solution of water and bleach, or zapping it in the microwave in a bowl of water for 45-60 seconds.

Should You Wash Chicken Before Cooking It?

You’ve just picked up a chicken from the grocery store, and you’re not sure how to prep it. Should you wash it before cooking it?

Many consumers have the habit of washing chicken before cooking it, normally by rinsing the bird or individual parts with running water, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports.

If you’re one of them, you should stop, even when a recipe calls for it.

I had a tough time getting my mom and dad to stop doing this, as they were taught that this was something they absolutely had to do back when they were growing up!

Experts advise strongly against washing raw chicken before cooking it. Not only will the water not kill any bacteria, but it will actually increase the risk of spreading them to other foods and surfaces.

“During washing, chicken juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops.”

U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC)

“Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, in a press release for a 2019 study on the topic.

“The best practice is not to wash poultry.”

In Conclusion

Never rinse chicken in your sink before cooking it. Older cookbooks will often call for it, but it can actually spread bacteria in your sink and on your countertop, and the CDC and USDA both recommend against doing it.

What you should be doing instead is washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after handling raw chicken and sanitizing all utensils and surfaces that came into contact with it.

With this simple but effective habit, you will reduce the risk of bacterial cross-contamination to a minimum—keeping yourself and your loved ones as safe as possible from food-borne illness.