Sep. 4, 2013 at 11:20 AM ET
Stop washing your chicken. Not only is rinsing your poultry before you cook ineffective at killing germs, it can actually spread them, Drexel University researchers say.
Via an animated "Germ-Vision" YouTube clip, the researchers show how the bacteria can ride on the misting water droplets, splattering the food-prep area in a 2-3 foot radius.
"Washing doesn't sanitize," said Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University. She spearheaded the public awareness project on a grant from the USDA, which has for years advised against rinsing or soaking chicken prior to cooking.
The water molecules carrying salmonella or campylobacter bacteria, two of the leading causes of food-borne illness, aren't visible to the naked eye. Even a trickle of water can give the pathogens a means of locomotion through a process known as "aerosolization."
Instead, said Quinlan, just unwrap the chicken and stick it in the oven or on the grill. The only way to kill the bacteria is to cook the chicken thoroughly until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Health official advise following traditional procedures for avoiding cross-contamination as well.
Despite the risk, 90 percent of the population washes their chicken before cooking it, according to a survey Quinlan conducted. The practice appears to have been passed down from generation to generation. During the study's focus groups, the most common reason for why consumers chose to douse their poultry was, "that's how I was taught to do it."
Even Julia Child, and other big name cooks, have recommended it for years. "Just run the water right through it inside and out," said Child in an a clip from her old TV program 'The French Chef.' "I just think it's the safer thing to do."
Sorry, Julia, it's just the opposite.
"Once you introduce water, you start to give bacteria a way to move around," said Quinlan.
But the habit may be hard to break for cooks who firmly belief in the power giving their chicken a bath before the barbecue.
"My response: try it once," said Quinlan. "Make your chicken without washing it once. If it doesn't taste any different, ask yourself, why are you washing it?"