It’s a common culinary habit to wash the chicken thoroughly before cooking it.
However, washing raw chicken before it’s cooked can pose a serious health threat as splashing tap water can disperse the bacteria from the chicken (campylobacter, for instance) on your hands, clothes and kitchen utensils. In reality, water drops can fall as far as 50cm in all directions, and it takes only a few Campylobacter cells to cause food poisoning.
This bacteria is the most common cause of food poisoning leading to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fever and vomiting. Then symptoms of this serious condition normally appear 2-5 days after eating contaminated food. The symptoms usually disappear without treatment for the same period. In more serious cases, Campylobacter infection can trigger irritable bowel syndrome, reactive arthritis, miscarriage and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Groups that are particularly at risk are young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune system, especially those affected with HIV and cancer.
It’s important to know that washing raw chicken, especially the blood residues, does not make it any cleaner or bacteria-free; you only achieve this when the chicken is cooked properly.
Also, freezing raw chicken cuts down the amount of Campylobacter; however, it doesn’t remove it completely. The safest way to eliminate Campylobacter thoroughly is by cooking the chicken properly.
Although this is nothing new, a warning to raise awareness against Campylobacter food poisoning was issued after the results of a survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) showed that 44% people still wash chicken before cooking.
Prevent Campylobacter poisoning
Cover and chill raw chicken
To minimize the risks of Campylobacter food poisoning, cover raw chicken and store it at the bottom of the fridge in order to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods and thus contaminate them.
Don’t wash raw chicken
Always have in mind that cooking, i.e. high temperature will destroy any bacteria present, including campylobacter. On the other hand, washing the chicken can only spread germs.
Wash used utensils
Another important thing to have in mind is to thoroughly wash and clean all kitchen utensils, chopping boards and surfaces that you use when preparing raw chicken. Also, wash your hands thoroughly using soap and warm water as this also prevents the spread of campylobacter.
Cook chicken thoroughly
As mentioned above, proper cooking is essential for eliminating any risk of Campylobacter food poisoning. Make sure your chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. By cutting deep into the thickest part, check that the chicken is steaming hot and there isn’t pink, uncooked meat. The juices must also run clear.