The Chicken Debate: To Wash Or Not To Wash


The Chicken Debate: To Wash Or Not To Wash

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, May 09, 2019

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While scrolling through my social media “stories” this week, I stumbled upon a few posts from disgruntled readers expressing their disgust about a recent tweet by the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stating: “Don't wash your raw chicken! Washing can spread germs from the chicken to other food or utensils in the kitchen.” In a follow-up tweet, the government agency tweeted: “We didn't mean to get you all hot about not washing your chicken! But it's true: kill germs by cooking chicken thoroughly, not washing it. You shouldn't wash any poultry, meat, or eggs before cooking. They can all spread germs around your kitchen.”

The majority of the posts seen were from Jamaicans, some living in the US and others resident here, the common response being, “Why wouldn't I want to wash my chicken?” Of course, we are all going to argue about the fact that a few years ago we were told to wash raw meat before cooking and now we're being told otherwise. But let's see if we can shed some light on the reasoning behind this and also why we “yardies” need not worry ourselves too much about this.

Firstly, we must note that the National Health Service in the United Kingdom has reported that about 50 per cent of the chicken sold in the UK carries camphylobacter bacteria. Additionally, the United States CDC estimates that every year about a million people get sick from eating poultry that's contaminated with harmful bacteria such as salmonella. The CDC has also estimated that salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalisations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year. With these numbers, of course they will need to keep finding methods to reduce the likelihood of food-borne illnesses. Jamaica on the other hand has not had this level of outbreak to date, with only a few cases being reported each year.

Washing does not remove harmful pathogens such as salmonella from chicken and of course this bacteria can be spread throughout your kitchen if the basic food safety rules, cleaning after preparation; separating from other foods; cooking and chilling; and the correct temperatures are not followed. Therefore, the questions you may need to ask yourself before you start ranting about the post are: In what form do I buy my chicken? Why am I washing it? How will I handle preparation, post-preparation and cooking?

Many readers in the US have expressed their disagreement with the post, and made it clear that they will continue to wash their chicken as their intention is not to remove bacteria. Similarly, Jamaicans have different methods for preparing and cooking chicken and after interviewing a few individuals the common reasoning for washing chicken is to remove the residue from fats and drained chicken “juices” after cleaning — most times with vinegar — not to remove bacteria. The concern is that these juices are what will spread the bacteria and contaminate other surfaces, utensils and foods being prepared by splashing and direct contact. However, all interviewed mentioned washing their chicken in bowls — not in their sink, ensuring that this vessel along with cutting board and utensils are washed with bleach solution after preparation.

I'm sure many of you will continue to wash your chicken; if you decide to do this, keep in mind that you must follow all required steps for cleaning, separation, cooking and chilling. This will help to reduce the risk of cross-contamination with harmful pathogens.

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