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Raw chicken bacteria- myth vs. fact

Recently, media has uncovered nearly two-thirds of chicken from the supermarket has salmonella or campylobacter bacteria. We all know that cooking to a safe temperature will kill this potential illness inducing bacteria, but all this time, I've been rinsing my raw chicken in cool water an patting it dry with paper towels (which are immediately thrown away, and surrounding counter-tops sanitized). Why the rinsing? Is this an old wives' tale that I've been wasting time with for years? If cooking the chicken completely is the only killer of bacteria, am I wasting my time and potentially spreading germs around my kitchen sink and counter tops?
Also, I've eaten tons of chicken in my lifetime- both in restaurants and my own home. To my knowledge, I've never gotten the sicknesses mentioned above. I don't consider myself to be super human, so is it possible the media is pulling a fast one on us?

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  1. No, the media is not pulling a fast one with this. I am a medical technologist. A few years ago, the microbiology department of my lab pulled samples of chicken from local groceries and cultured them. They also had positive cultures on about 2/3 of the samples they tested.

    It is less frequent in whole chickens than in cut-up chickens or chicken parts, and even less frequent in kosher chicken.

    1. I believe it is no longer recommended that poultry be rinsed before cooking because 1) thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present and 2) rinsing risks cross-contamination. I used to rinse but now I just dry with paper towels. And no, the media isn't pulling a fast on on us - most poultry is contaminated.

      1. Current recommendations do not advocate rising poultry because of the possiblilty of cross contamination. In theory, you can spread pathogenic bacteria onto your kitchen surfaces and then contaminate your kitchen sponges and spread bacteria on to MORE kitchen surfaces. If you're diligent to bleach everything, and sanitize anything that is not bleachable, you're probably fine with rising your chicken. The message is mostly directed at the majority of individuals who throw a raw chicken under a running faucet and clean up the splashes with a funky sponge, wipe their hands on a funky towel, and leave the bird to drain on a plate that overflows with chicken juice.

        And to address the issue about the possible threat of salmonella/campylobacter-- most people will go their whole lives without being affected, but it can be debilitating and even life-threatening for those that do. Someone who is medically fragile (immunocompromised, elderly, very young) will likely end up hospitalized. So yeah, the media hype is probably a bit overblown but this is the USA where we are so desensitized to the media-- if something is not sensationalized, it's ignored completely! The message is worth hearing, even if the delivery is a little over-the-top.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chococat

          whatever teh media reports Doesn't happen very often. These things are outliers and remarkable happenings. epidemics are rare and reported heavily. It's when they stop reporting do we have to start really worrying.

        2. I believe that much commercially process poultry is contaminated, but even so, I've wondering myself lately about the apparently conflicting advice from different sources as to whether we should rinse chicken and why. So thank you for posting the question and thanks to folks who responded. Helpful information for me in their answers.

          1. I always rinse it, because raw chicken always seems to me to have a bit of "gunk" on it (blood/water, probably), and the skin crisps up much better when the bird has been rinsed and dried as opposed to simply patted dry, IMO. *shrugs*

            I never thought of it as getting rid of germs, since water alone certainly won't do that.

            1. You can read more about this subject at this link, with articles from NYT and AOL via Consumer Reports, although I don't remember whether proper handling of chicken is discussed in either article.
              I personally don't rinse chicken, haven't done it in years, either professionally or at home, as I've always been concerned more with cross-contamination than existing bacteria.


              1. I'm not inclined to be pushed into fear of food. But the inhumane and unsanitary methods of intensive production used today do make me concerned enough to heed the warnings about chicken.

                2 Replies
                1. re: rainey

                  I just avoid buying chickens raised in such conditions. I rinse, dry with paper towels, and clean my sink with Clorox Cleanup and paper towels.

                  1. re: mcf

                    Good for you! We should all make that kind of factory farming an economic no-go by avoiding them.

                2. It's just rumors, but everything I've heard about chicken processing has led me to believe that the conditions are incredibly unsanitary. The fact that so much of chicken is contaminated seems to support this.

                  If processing plants are that lackadaisical about bacteria, what else could be coating the chicken? Unless proven otherwise, I'm going under the assumption that packaged chickens are covered in crap (literally and figuratively) and, thus, should be washed- carefully. I put down plastic on the counter and have the roasting pan ready next to the sink, so the meat never sits anywhere where it can contaminate. When I'm done, I throw the plastic out. With the proper mise en place, meat can be rinsed without cross contamination.

                  Until it's rinsed and cooked, I treat packaged chicken as hazardous waste.