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Why You Should Refrain From Washing Your Meat Before Cooking

Last updated April 29, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Washing foods before they are cooked has become a culinary pre-preparation practice in an attempt to wash away potential pesticides, impurities, surface microbial contaminations, and added dirt that may sit on the raw food from the handling and distribution chains. However, washing meat is often a topic of argument.


Washing foods before they are cooked has become a culinary pre-preparation practice in an attempt to wash away potential pesticides, impurities, surface microbial contaminations, and added dirt that may sit on the raw food from the handling and distribution chains. However, washing meat is often a topic of argument.

As meat could be loaded with bacteria, some people prefer washing it thoroughly, and some others like to at least rinse the meat before it is used for cooking. Yes, washing meat does help eliminate certain bacteria, but not all present. As per a food safety research analyst Ben Chapman from the North Carolina State University, meat must never be washed or rinsed in water before being cooked, as it tends to spread harmful bacteria across the kitchen/preparation area and contaminate other foods and utensils that may be present. He adds that washing poultry can lead to the water spraying and bacteria having an outreach about three feet away. Instead, cooking the meat directly is a better way of safely destroying most bacteria lurking in the meat cuts and preventing contamination of the surroundings.

Thus, cleaning meat does not depend on washing it with water, but on the cooking temperature. For example, cooking chicken at 175 degree Fahrenheit ensures all bacteria are destroyed. Handling raw meat may transfer some bacteria into the hands of the handler. However, Researcher Jennifer Quinlan explains in an NPR blog that this is far less than what is in the meat itself. The 2005 Tufts University Health and Nutrition letter suggests that touching the meat only before it needs to be cooked is the best method to follow. Also, hands can be washed thoroughly with warm water and soap after the meat is left to cook and before any other food or utensils are handled. The sink and splash-area around must also be cleaned well before beginning to cook with other foods.

Some types of meat get slimy or juicy in the packet, and the liquid collects at the bottom of the packet. Many people believe this to be the reason that these meats are in need of a wash or rinse. A tissue napkin can be used instead to blot off the slime. Similarly, if washing is done to get rid of blood stains or spots, cooking can eliminate them too. Alternatives to water such as marinades, brine, vinegar, etc. are also used to clean the meat. However, everything the raw meat touches will be contaminated with bacteria, and, therefore, the utensils/surfaces will need to be cleaned thoroughly.

Therefore, avoiding the washing step will help maintain the kitchen clean and free of possible bacterial contaminations that could potentially pose more risk to your health. Based on food safety research, the federal Dietary Guidelines also specify that meat and poultry should not be rinsed/washed.

References:

Jones, O. (2014 Nov 13). Should the Turkey be Quarantined? Holiday Food Safety Tips. Retrieved from http://currituck.ces.ncsu.edu/2014/11/should-the-turkey-be-quarantined-holiday-food-safety-tips/

Julia Child Was Wrong: Don't Wash Your Raw Chicken, Folks. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/08/27/213578553/julia-child-was-wrong-don-t-wash-your-raw-chicken-folks

(2009). Preparing Meats, Poultry, and Fish. Retrieved from http://www.nfsmi.org/documentlibraryfiles/PDF/20100210094010.pdf

Food Safety. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/food_safety.html#

Shipman, M. (2014 Aug 14). 5 Things Everyone Should Know About Washing Food. Retrieved from http://science.kqed.org/quest/2014/08/14/5-things-everyone-should-know-about-washing-food/

Godoy, M. (2013 Aug 31). Don’t Panic! Your Questions On (Not) Washing Raw Chickens. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/08/31/216948010/dont-panic-your-questions-on-not-washing-raw-chickens

Greger, M. SUPERBUGS: Don’t Wash Your Meat. Retrieved from http://www.all-creatures.org/health/superbugs-dont.html

Moberg, J. (2013 Aug 23). Washing Meat and Poultry is Not Recommended. Retrieved from http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/washing_meat_and_poultry_is_not_recommended

(2010 Dec) Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Page 70. Retrieved from http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/dietary_guidelines_for_americans/PolicyDoc.pdf

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 29, 2015
Last updated: April 29, 2015