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Don't wash the chicken — it only makes things worse

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Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 11:45 pm

NPR’s excellent food blog, The Salt, draws our attention to a public health campaign created by researchers at Drexel University and New Mexico State University called “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” (No beating around the bush for this campaign.) The centerpiece of the campaign is a horrifying 14-second animated video that portrays germs, represented by green goo, splattering everywhere as a woman washes a chicken: onto countertops, onto nearby cheese and produce, onto paper towels and onto the washer’s T-shirt.

“There’s no reason, from a scientific point of view, to think you’re making it any safer,” explains Drexel food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan, “and in fact, you’re making it less safe.” Studies back Quinlan up: The only way to kill the bacteria on chicken is to cook it properly.

The Salt sets up the advice of “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” in opposition to that of Julia Child, who endorsed chicken-washing on “The French Chef.” But Child is hardly the only famous cookbook author to recommend giving poultry a rinse before cooking it. Here are a few other food luminaries who, according to my research, have sanctioned the practice:

• Martha Stewart (in Martha’s American Food)

• Mark Bittman (in the New York Times)

• James Beard (in The Essential James Beard Cookbook)

• Alton Brown (in I’m Just Here for the Food: Version 2.0)

• Marion Cunningham (in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

• Marcella Hazen (in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)

• Sheila Lukins (in USA Cookbook)

• Harold McGee (in Keys to Good Cooking)

• Michael Ruhlman (in Ruhlman’s Twenty)

• Marcus Samuelsson (in Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine)

• Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (in The Joy of Cooking)

If you feel confused and betrayed by all your favorite cookbook authors, take heart: There’s one typically impeccable source that’s told us the truth for almost a decade. “Don’t rinse poultry before cooking,” say the editors of Cook’s Illustrated in “The Science of Good Cooking.” “You aren’t killing any bacteria and you may be spreading bacteria around your kitchen.” Cook’s Illustrated has taken this safety-minded stance since 2004. However, a glance at their 1999 publication “The Cook’s Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry” indicates that they recommended rinsing birds in the late 20th century. We guess nobody’s perfect, especially when it comes to the counterintuitive danger of washing chicken.

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