ILLNESSES LACKING

Washing raw chicken could make you sick - study

In Summary

• According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service report, washing raw chicken increases the risk for foodborne illness, even if the sink is sanitised afterwards.

• Salmonella is the bacteria associated with raw poultry and leads to about a million illnesses in Kenya annually, according to a report by Centres for disease control and prevention.

Washing raw chicken increases your chances of getting food borne diseases
Washing raw chicken increases your chances of getting food borne diseases
Image: COURTESY

The raw chicken washing phenomenon is nothing new. Indeed, it's been happening in kitchens for decades.

Some wash their raw chicken by soaking it in the sink, either with water only or adding vinegar or lemon juice.

"Growing up, I always saw my mom and dad do it," Ann Mumbi, 23, a student at Daystar University said.

 
 

Mumbi said it's the viscid bits on raw chicken that compels her to rinse the chicken in her kitchen sink before cooking it.

"There's this little film between the skin and meat that I don't like. It's kind of like slime," Mumbi said.

"I just feel like washing it makes it cleaner."

Mumbi rinses raw chicken in the sink to remove "slime" because that's how her mother used to do it.

"I've just always done it this way," she said.

"That's what people around me did when I was growing up. I picked it up from the culture."

According to the global Food Safety and Inspection Service report published on Tuesday, washing raw chicken increases the risk for foodborne illness, even if the sink is sanitised afterwards.

"The problem with rinsing raw chicken is that instead of making it 'cleaner'. It splatters potentially harmful bacteria onto kitchen counters and even other food that's already been properly washed and ready to eat," the study finds.

"A lot of people prepare their salads around the sink, so it's cross-contaminated," said Mindy Brashears, deputy undersecretary for food safety at the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

 

The Food Safety and Inspection Service partnered with the North Carolina State University to investigate how home cooks handle raw meat, and how those practices affect nearby food.

The researchers recruited 300 people to prepare chicken and a salad in test kitchens at N.C. State.

Some participants were shown food safety messages on social media ahead of time that discouraged rinsing raw chicken.

Most of those participants followed the advice.

But among the control group - those who did not get the safety messages - 61 per cent rinsed their raw meat. And nearly 30 per cent of those participants' salads were later found to be contaminated with bacteria from the chicken.

"How many times have you been peeling a vegetable and drop it into the sink, and you just pick it up and go on," Brashears said.

"At that point, you've contaminated your vegetables."

Microbiological horror stories

Some of the participants "washed" their chicken by soaking it in the sink, either with water only or adding soap, vinegar or lemon juice.

"These are horror stories from a microbiological standpoint," said Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina.

Chapman said there's no good evidence that soaking raw chicken in vinegar or lemon juice kills bacteria.

What surprised me most was just how much food preparation happens in and around a sink after someone washes the chicken.
North Carolina Food safety specialist, Ben Chapman.

Often participants rinsed vegetables in the sink where they'd just had raw chicken.

Contaminated water from the basin then splashes onto the vegetables.

"We in the food safety community didn't really have a good sense of this until the work we did here," Chapman said.

 Investigators went into the test kitchens after the meals were prepared, swabbing the sinks and counters, finding them contaminated even after participants cleaned them.

Spice containers also showed signs of contamination.

The centres for disease control and prevention report estimates that 48 million people - one in six - get sick from a foodborne illness each year.

Salmonella is the bacteria associated with raw poultry, and leads to about a million illnesses in Kenya annually, according to the CDC.

Most have diarrhoea, fever and stomach cramps, and most recover, but nearly 400 die each year from salmonella.

Another type of bacteria, Campylobacter, is also found in raw or undercooked poultry and accounts for about 1.3 million illnesses every year.

Even food safety experts are at risk.

"I had campylobacter about a decade ago," Chapman said.

"I won't go into details, but it was no fun whatsoever."

Food experts advised ways to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

"Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water, drying hands with a paper towel, then throw the paper towel away," they said.

Experts also advise people to sanitize the sink and kitchen counters before and after food preparation.

"Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and other food."