It used to be a standard kitchen rule, a staple, cooking law, if you will. “Wash your chicken before you cook it.” Now, researchers from Drexel University are challenging this notion and declaring that this age-old practice could actually be spreading more dangerous bacteria than we ever realized.

Don't Wash Raw Chicken

For generations, young cooks have been told to wash raw chicken and over the past decade, we’ve even seen top chefs like Paula Deen and Rachael Ray demonstrate it on television for the home viewer. Even Julia Child, the grand dame of the culinary world, told us wash the bird. Go against Julia? This better be some compelling evidence, Drexel University. It is.

In a recent study funded by the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative (NIFSI), researchers discovered that running water over raw chicken causes bacteria to splatter not only in the sink but up to three feet around the entire work surface including the dish towel, countertops, and other utensils or food that may be in its path. A short Germ-Vision video animates the contamination process.

News outlets have been reporting on the research for months but a recent Salmonella outbreak is sparking interest once again.

Why all the fuss? Bacteria from chicken can cause Salmonella. In most people the symptoms include fever, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps lasting up to seven days. Uncomfortable but not serious, unless you’re a child, a pregnant woman, an elderly person or someone with a compromised immune system. Then, the symptoms can be deadly.

Recently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reported an outbreak of Salmonella from chicken distributed by Foster Farms. Of the 300 people identified, 42% of those have required hospitalization and some are taking longer to cure because a few strains seem to be resistant to antibiotics.

Research from Drexel University and their handy, yet alarming, Germ-Vision video may be new but the advice of the USDA has never wavered, “Some consumers think they are removing bacteria and making their meat or poultry safe. However, some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed. But there are other types of bacteria that can be easily washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen. Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead to foodborne illness.”

More Tips on Handling Raw Chicken

  • After preparing raw chicken, keep all utensils and cutting boards separate to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. A meat thermometer placed in the center of the bird can easily determine this.
  • When marinating raw chicken, do not re-use the juice or oils. Discard immediately.
  • The acid in lime, lemon and vinegar will not kill bacteria.
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds in warm soapy water after handling.