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Washing Raw Poultry Increases Contamination, USDA Study Says

Washing raw poultry increases risk of contamination, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Washing raw poultry increases risk of contamination, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Photo Credit: Pixabay

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that washing poultry increases contamination risk.

While washing poultry has long been perceived as a typical and even a necessary part of cooking and meal preparation, an observational study showed that bacteria is more easily spread when contact surfaces are not properly sanitized.

“Cooking and mealtime is a special occasion for all of us as we come together with our families and friends,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “However, the public health implications of these findings should be of concern to everyone. Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods. The best practice is not to wash poultry.”

That’s right - ultimately, the best practice is to avoid washing poultry in the first place. If you choose to do so, the USDA recommends considering the following three options:

  • 1. Reduce your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, prior to handling and preparing raw meat and poultry. The study showed that 60 percent of participants had bacteria in the sink after washing or rinsing poultry. Concerningly, after attempting to clean the sink, 14 percent still had bacteria.
  • 2. Properly clean and sanitize any and all surfaces that potentially came into contact with raw poultry or juices. This includes washing your hands with hot water and soap and lathering for 20 seconds.
  • 3. Be sure to cook all raw poultry to a safe temperature that destroys bacteria. The best way to ensure proper temperature is to test the meat with a food thermometer: beef, pork lamb and veal are safe to eat at 145 degrees, ground meats are safe to eat at 160 degrees and poultry is safe to eat at 165 degrees.

“Everyone has a role to play in preventing illness from food,” said Administrator Carmen Rottenberg of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). “Please keep in mind that children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. Washing or rinsing raw meat and poultry can increase your risk as bacteria spreads around your kitchen, but not washing your hands for 20 seconds immediately after handling those raw foods is just as dangerous.”

Ultimately, the USDA estimates that 128,00 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths occur each year from foodborne illness.

For more information about this study, view the executive summary .

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