September 6, 2013
Turn Off the Water And Drop That Chicken
We have all seen it. While at a friend’s house, the cook — let’s say it’s a man — washes his chicken before prepping it for roasting. When we ask why he did that, his answer is simple: “That’s how I was taught.” And many, many people were taught to wash their raw chicken before cooking it by the beloved Julia Child. In her own words, “I just think it’s safer to do.” And really, that makes some sort of sense because raw chicken carries bacteria and what do we do to get rid of bacteria on our hands…wash them. So why not wash the raw meat? It turns out, though, that Child actually made the kitchen less safe with washing according to an NPR report.
Wait, what? I hear your skepticism. Just how could washing bacteria off of chicken make the kitchen less safe. Well, when we wash our chicken, the bacteria does not just swirl down the drain and out of our lives. Oh no. It actually ricochets off of the chicken’s skin onto our aprons, countertops, dishes, flatware, cutting boards, and other cookware. Researchers from Drexel University say that when we wash those raw chicks, the bacteria can fly up to three feet away from the sink. Gross!
And these are pretty serious bacteria including salmonella and Campylobacter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that many foodborne illnesses have declined over the years, but salmonella is not one of them, which means that we should be extra careful with foods that commonly have it including raw chicken. Salmonella and Campylobacter are responsible for up to 1.9 million cases of foodborne illnesses a year. That is too many to discard being safer in the kitchen no matter what Julia Child says.
So, the Drexel University researchers and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are on a campaign to get the word out to the US populace of at-home chefs to stop washing those chickens before cooking them. Any bacteria on the fowl’s skin will die off as long as they reach 165 degree Fahrenheit (which is about 74 degrees Celsius), so there really is no reason to wash them off beforehand. However, there is plenty of reason to not wash them including avoiding the spread of foodborne illnesses throughout the kitchen.
I must admit, the first time I saw a friend wash her chicken before cooking it, I was baffled. I had never seen such a move in cooking before then. I asked her why she did that because the oven, grill, or pan would naturally kill the bacteria as long as she did not undercook it, and she told me, “Julia Child said so.” I respected Mrs. Child and her lessons on cooking, but I thought that advice was simply ridiculous. I could not believe that someone who dealt with food would not just trust the cooking apparatus to do its job.
Sure, people still get salmonella poisoning, but it is usually because they did not properly cook their meat. In the past couple of years, we have had outbreaks of salmonella poisoning in peanuts and eggs and even on some spinach, but the majority of cases reported are due to raw meat. I see why people would think that washing their meat would help, but thanks to Drexel we now know that they are possibly just infecting other foods and cooking items with the bacteria instead. This just goes to show that we should look to science even in cooking.
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