Why you should NOT wash raw chicken before cooking.

Raw chicken legs still in the package.

Raw chicken is gross, why shouldn’t I wash it?

Raw chicken from the grocery store looks and feels gross. The skin has little bumps and feels wet and clammy. There are red and yellowish juices throughout the packaging and dripping from the bird, disgusting!

Not only that, but we have all heard horror stories about how nasty a meat processing plant can be. Or the industrial farms where chickens are raised – crammed in tiny cages and wallowing their own filth, yuck!

If you have a little more knowledge about food safety, you may still be convinced that poultry needs to be washed before cooking. After all, poultry is one of the biggest carriers of the pathogens that cause foodborne illness. This is why poultry needs to be cooked to a higher temperature than foods (165°F) in order to make it safe to eat. It makes sense that rinsing the bird first is an extra precaution against illness.

And some of us have memories of our mothers or grandmothers giving the bird a quick rinse in the sink before seasoning or carving it. And it seems like a good idea so we pass that “wisdom” on to our children. But unfortunately, washing poultry does more harm than good. So why is it dangerous to wash chicken before cooking it?

Because washing raw chicken makes an even bigger mess!

The water used to wash the chicken splashes everywhere, even if it doesn’t seem like it. One little splash can cause tiny water droplets to fly up to two feet in any direction.

Then the juices are on your hands and you touch the faucet to turn it off. After that, you may wipe your hands on a towel making it contaminated too.

Now the chicken juices are all over the sink, faucet, counter, towels and you! Your kitchen is entirely contaminated.

Raw poultry, and especially chicken contain a pathogen called campylobacter. And campylobacter is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States. It only takes one microscopic campylobacter organism on your counter to quickly multiply into millions and billions of campylobacter organisms.

Microscopic image of campylobacter bacteria
Campylobacter Bacteria Under a Microscope

If enough campylobacter is accidentally ingested or enters the body through hand to mouth contact, a person can become sick. And in some cases, the sickness can even lead to death.

If there are young children in the house then the scenario becomes even worse. Preschool-age children are very susceptible to foodborne illness because their bodies have not yet developed a strong enough immune system. Also, the elderly and people who are already sick with other diseases are more susceptible as well.

A baby being washed in the same sink as raw chicken.

There have always been two sides to the argument and everyone has an opinion. But there is only one correct answer, you should not wash raw poultry before cooking it. Now that you know the reason it’s quite simple and easy to understand – explain it to others so that they know it too.

As long as you cook poultry to the correct internal temperature, it becomes totally safe to eat.