Here's why you should never wash uncooked chicken

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Growing up and helping my mom in the kitchen, I would always see her rinse chicken in the sink before she would season and cook it. Even Julia Child thought we should do it! I never really questioned why, and just adopted the practice as an adult.

But as it turns out, giving your poultry a quick rinse under the tap is not only unhealthy — in some cases, it can even be potentially fatal.

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The water droplets that come in contact with the raw meat can spread all over the sink, the tap, the towels and nearby work surfaces. Sure, the thought of raw chicken water touching your kitchen seems gross, but even more terrifying is the fact that you’re probably spreading harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

A new study from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and North Carolina State University set out to explore how handling raw meat affects nearby foods.

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The study enlisted 300 people to prepare chicken and salad in a test kitchen, with researchers only showing some of the participants food and safety messages on social media that advised cooks not to rinse raw chicken.

According to the study, 35 per cent of participants washed their poultry. Of those who received warnings of food safety through social media only 7 per cent of participants rinsed their chicken thighs.

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When tested, bacteria was found up to three feet surrounding the sink for those who washed their chicken. In addition, those who washed their chicken had a contamination rate of 26 per cent in the salads the prepared.

The results indicated to researchers that proper education and food safety warnings are crucial to affecting participant behaviour and minimizing risk. The study determined that a reminder of proper food handling practices as well as risk awareness of cross-contamination are required on a large scale, addressing specific concerns to capture the public’s attention.

Uncooked chicken: What could go wrong?

The poultry that we buy can carry two dangerous bacteria in their uncooked state: the first is called campylobacter, and the second, which is one you’ve probably heard about, is salmonella. Neither hot or cold water will kill these bacteria, so no matter how thoroughly you wash your poultry, all you’re doing is increasing the chance of spreading the germs across your kitchen.

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Campylobacter infection can cause abdominal pain, severe and even bloody diarrhea, fever and vomiting. The symptoms can generally last for up to 10 days, and most people recover without treatment, but it can be fatal in young children, older adults and those who have a weakened immune system.

Salmonella infection has very similar symptoms, with people generally developing diarrhea, fever and cramps that can last up to 12 to 27 hours after being infected. In some cases, salmonella can cause death.

Every year, it’s estimated about 4 million Canadians (1 in 8) are affected by a food-borne illness, and of this, salmonella and campylobacter are responsible for 38 per cent of known causes of food-borne hospitalizations.

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Even if you buy only organic chicken, the bird still can still contain harmful bacteria like the ones found on those conventionally raised so make sure you take precautions with any kind of poultry you’re handling.

Scared yet? Don’t be! All foods come with certain risks, and as long as you follow best practices, you’ll have safe and tasty meals.

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Always make sure your chicken is cooked all the way through and there’s no pink left when you cut through the thickest part of the meat and the juices run clear. If you have a meat thermometer, 165 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended safe internal temperature by the FDA. A thorough cooking is the best — and only — way to remove harmful bacteria.

Be careful to wash any utensils or kitchen tools that came in contact with raw turkey to avoid spreading the bacteria.

And, if you feel like you simply must add in an extra cleaning step to remove sliminess, the FDA recommends patting turkey with a paper towel then throwing out immediately.

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