Studies have shown that 44% of the population washes raw chicken prior to cooking, thereby risking the spread of of Campylobacter bacteria on multiple surfaces (hands, clothing, cooking utensils, counter tops and more) via splashing droplets of water.
Common symptoms of Campylobacter poisoning include abdominal pain, severe diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome, reactive arthritis, as well as a serious condition of the nervous system known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately one in every 1,000 reported Campylobacter illnesses leads to Guillain-Barré syndrome.
The Naked Truth
A single drop of juice from raw poultry can have enough Campylobacter in it to infect a person! The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NAMRS) reported that 47% of raw chicken samples bought in grocery stores tested POSITIVE for Campylobacter. Be aware that in addition to raw meat, the bacteria can also be present in the giblets, especially the liver.
The theory, according to the CDC and the Food Safety Agency, is that approximately 50% of all raw poultry contains Campylobacter bacteria – when people wash it they inevitably spread the bacteria from the raw chicken to nearby surfaces when water droplets bounce off the raw poultry, thereby contaminating the surfaces (including counters, cutting boards, utensils, hands, arms, clothing, etc).
Since most people don’t bleach the area, or they tend to wipe the area with a clean cloth, (rather than using hot soapy water), the bacteria are rapidly spread to other surfaces, where they multiply and cause cross contamination.
We aren’t necessarily advocating NOT washing chicken (although both the United States Food Safety Organization and the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency advises against washing); just that people should be aware that it must be done carefully to avoid potential contamination and spread of a (sometimes fatal) bacteria that isn’t well known, but is widespread.
Prevent the Spread
- Do NOT wash raw poultry prior to cooking.
- Prevent cross contamination- Immediately wash any cutting boards/utensils that have come into contact with raw poultry before using them to prepare any other foods.
If you feel the need to wash your poultry:
Let’s face it, sometimes you MUST wash poultry,like the inside of turkeys before stuffing them, legs/thighs to remove bits of bone from butchering, etc. Here’s how to do so safely:
- Place the poultry in a colander in the center of the sink
- Rinse using cold water turned on low, (to help prevent splashing)
- Let the chicken set a few moments to fully drain off
- Wash your hands with hot soapy water
- Wash the surrounding counter areas with hot soapy water (A solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water may be used to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils.)
- Dry the counters/ surfaces thoroughly
Properly cooking poultry effectively kills any potential bacteria (Salmonella, Campylobacter, etc) that is on the chicken, but taking these simple steps will ensure that you don’t accidentally spread the bacteria prior to cooking.