Both professional and home cooks have been rinsing raw chicken and turkey before cooking it for what seems like forever. It's one of those divisive practices—either you do it or you don't, and people tend to be rather opinionated on their stances.
Pro-rinsers argue that it removes bacteria, and if Julia Child recommends it, how could it be bad? But in the years since Child wrote that "it is probably wise to give [chicken] a thorough washing and drying before storing or cooking," studies have found that rinsing often does more harm than good.
It is true that some of the bacteria on the surface of the meat is removed by rinsing it in water, but it doesn't get them all. As the USDA's Ask Karen site explains, "some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed."
What's really important when it comes to safety is the final temperature of the meat. Cooking chicken to 165°F kills all the bacteria on it whether you rinse it or not. As Jacques Pépin once said, "if bacteria could survive that oven, it deserves to kill me."
The USDA has actually been advising against washing chicken for years. Remember how we said that rinsing meat removes some of the bacteria? Well, those bacteria all end up on your sink and any other surfaces the water splashes onto.
Some people argue that if washing bacteria off of chicken is considered unsafe, then washing your hands should be as well. But, as food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan explained to NPR, "the bacteria that ends up on your hands after handling raw poultry is just a tiny fraction of what's found on the bird itself."
Quinlan and her fellow researchers at Drexel University were so convinced by their findings that they launched a campaign appropriately called Don't Wash Your Chicken! The campaign used a "Germ-Vision" animation to demonstrate how washing chicken can spread germs around the kitchen.
If there are any small bone fragments or slimy residues from giblets, you can rinse them away if you'd like. And, of course, if you can't bear the idea of cooking chicken without washing it, it's your prerogative to do so. Just make sure you sanitize your sink and anything in the splash zone afterwards.
If you rinse meat because you hate the slimy juices in the bottom of the package, you can just blot it dry with a paper towel instead (the skin will cook up much crispier if it's dry, anyway).
The bottom line is that it's not the end of the world if you keep rinsing your chicken or turkey, but your kitchen will be a lot cleaner if you don't. And, since we know you've got one, let us know your opinion on rinsing chicken in the comments.
Turkey photo via stepnout/Flickr
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