Should you wash raw chicken? CDC posts serious reminder about food poisoning

To wash or not to wash? Here's what the food safety experts and celebrity chefs say about properly handling poultry.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
SUBSCRIBE
/ Source: TODAY
By Lyn Mettler

It’s an age-old debate that's been dividing the culinary community for decades: Should you rinse raw chicken before cooking it?

One of America's most beloved chefs, Julia Child, believed in washing raw poultry. However, her legendary co-host Jacques Pepin on “Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home” famously disagreed, saying that the heat from the oven kills off any germs or bacteria.

So which culinary master is correct?

Sorry, Julia, but it looks like plenty of celebrity chefs, including Ina Garten, have the food safety experts on their side.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an emphatic reminder on social media to home cooks about how to prevent food poisoning while cooking chicken.

"Don't wash your raw chicken!" the government organization tweeted. "Washing can spread germs from the chicken to other food or utensils in the kitchen."

Trending stories,celebrity news and all the best of TODAY.

In an article linked to the tweet, the agency further explained that, "During washing, chicken juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops." The article also added that it's important to thoroughly wash your hands after handling raw poultry and never use the same cutting board to prep other ingredients if raw chicken has touched it.

During an episode of Food Network's “Cook Like a Pro" that aired last year, Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, also weighed in on the debate, saying that there's no need to wash poultry before you cook it, breaking with Child, whom she has cited as one of her culinary idols. "I know there's this whole debate about whether you wash the chicken before you do this, or you don't," said Garten as she prepared to roast a whole bird.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), properly cooking a chicken to the right temperature will kill any bacteria. Argyris K. Magoulas, a USDA technical information specialist, told TODAY Food emphatically that you should not wash raw chicken due to the risk of potential cross-contamination of food-borne pathogens, like salmonella, which can be very dangerous.

“The problem is that you can splash, which can cross contaminate,” said Magoulas, noting that the pathogens could land on foods that may not get cooked later (like veggies) or cling to surfaces where they can linger for weeks or even months.

He added, “Washing is not really removing the [bacteria]. You kill them [pathogens] when you cook them.” For chicken, the thickest part of the meat should reach 165 degrees before it’s safe to eat, so keep that meat thermometer handy.

For years, both the CDC and USDA have been advising home cooks not to wash or rinse their raw chicken.

When cooking chicken, it should reach 165 degrees at the thickest part when it's done. Featurepics

However, the idea of rinsing chicken is still debated among many pros. TODAY asked several chefs for their take on whether it's ever OK — or even advisable — to wash raw poultry.

Libbie Summers, chef and creative culinary director for the food delivery service Terra's Kitchen, explained to TODAY that she prefers to wash her chicken, but for her it’s not about the bacteria, she just wants to remove any dirt.

"I grew up on a farm in Missouri, and the chickens co-mingled with the pigs and other animals that weren’t the best at keeping up with personal hygiene,” said Summers. “I always wash my chickens to ensure that they’re completely clean with no grit left behind."

Restauranteur and award-winning barbecue chef Melissa Cookston is also a chicken washer. "I agree that the high temperatures will kill all the germs, but I’m not taking any chances,” said Cookston. “I wash thoroughly before cooking. This also gives me a nice clean surface for seasonings to adhere to."

But plenty of pros stick with the USDA guidelines. And when they do rinse, it's to get rid of unappetizing extras, not to kill germs.

“If you buy fresh, skinless chicken breast, it doesn’t need to be washed," Luca Corazzina, executive chef at 312 Chicago, said. "If you buy chicken from your supermarket that has been sitting in its own blood and juices for a few days, you will probably feel better giving it a quick rinse.”

If you are really worried about making sure your poultry is as "clean" as possible, Magoulas did advise a safer method of "washing" the bird. If you want to remove excess sodium (many commercially produced chickens have added sodium to help preserve the meat and remove blood), it's OK to soak it in water — so the juices don't splash — and leave it in the refrigerator for no more than two hours before cooking.

A version of this article was originally published in March 2018.