How do you prepare chicken?
If you answer includes a quick rinse in your sink, listen up: the USDA says you need to stop immediately!
A new study showed dangerous levels of contamination between bacteria from raw poultry and other foods being prepared.
Advice over the years has been conflicting, even cooking legends Julia Child and Jacques Pepin disagreed.
But a new study from the Department of Agriculture has a definitive answer: don’t do it!
“The sink could be a source of cross contamination,” says Dr. Minday Brashears, under secretary for food safety at the USDA.
Using test kitchens, the USDA observed test subjects cooking chicken thighs, then preparing a salad.
When subjects washed the chicken, 26% transferred bacteria to the ready-to-eat lettuce.
Most didn’t attempt to clean the sink in between, but even when they did, 14% still were contaminated.
Black lights show how far bacteria traveled.
“How many times are you peeling a vegetable and drop it into the sink and you just pick it up and go on. And at that point, you’ve cross-contaminated your vegetables,” says Brashears.
Millions of americans are sickened by food borne illness every year, resulting in an average 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Young children and the elderly are especially at risk.
But even the researchers running the study have fallen ill.
“It made me realize food-borne illness isn’t just statistics. It’s real people that get sick and some people will lose their lives,” says Dr. Ben Chapman, food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University.
So what’s a home chef to do?
Prepare food that won’t be cooked- like salads- before handling raw meat.
Thoroughly clean and sanitize surfaces that have potentially been contaminated.
And if it’s raw, never rinse.
The USDA also says you should cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature.
That’s 165 degrees for poultry, 160-degrees for burgers, and 145-degrees for beef, pork and lamb.