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Don’t wash your chicken, says public health campaign

Shereen Dindar
Shine On
August 27, 2013

A new American public health campaign called "Don't Wash Your Chicken!" is challenging the aged practice of rinsing chicken before cooking -- a practice espoused by Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Alton Brown, among other celebrity cooks.

Although those storied chefs can sure teach us how to cook and prepare delicious food -- they may know nothing about science.

Created by researchers at Drexel University and New Mexico State University, the campaign features a disturbing 14-second animated video that portrays germs, represented by green goo, splattering everywhere as a woman washes a chicken. The goo splashes on counter tops, nearby produce, paper towels and the washer’s T-shirt.

Also see: Foods most likely to cause food poisoning

“There’s no reason, from a scientific point of view, to think you’re making it any safer,” food safety researcher, Jennifer Quinlan, tells NPR. “And in fact, you’re making it less safe.”

According to FoodSafety.gov, a U.S. government health information website, washing chicken increases the chances that you'll spread foodborne pathogens all over your kitchen and yourself. Some studies suggest bacteria can fly up from where your meat is rinsed, even if you can't see it. The only way to ensure these pathogens are killed is to cook your chicken to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Food poisoning from Salmonella and Campylobacter, two of the most common sources of food poisoning in Canada, can lead to symptoms such as stomach upset, vomiting, fever, nausea and diarrhea.

“You should assume that if you have chicken, you have either Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria on it, if not both,” says Quinlan.

Also see: Step you should skip while roasting chicken

Some other common food safety myths include:

1) It’s okay to thaw meat on the counter. Since it starts out frozen, bacteria isn’t really a problem. (Fact: Bacteria actually grows at a surprising rate at room temperature)

2) I don’t need to wash fruits or vegetables if I’m going to peel them. (Fact: It's very easy for bacteria to transfer from the peel or rind, so you should wash produce even when peeling.)

3) Leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad. (Fact: The kind of bacterias that cause food poisoning do not affect the look, taste or smell of food.)

4) Marinades are acidic, which kills bacteria—so it’s okay to marinate foods on the counter. (Fact: Even with marinades, bacteria can still grow rapidly at room temperature.)

What are your thoughts on the "Don't Wash Your Chicken!" public health campaign and other food safety myths? Will you change the way you wash and prepare foods?

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