Food safety experts at Drexel University say perhaps as many as 90 percent of us are prepping our poultry for cooking the wrong way.
You know how it goes: Take the poultry out of the plastic wrap, go directly to the sink and wash the bacteria down the drain.
That's wrong, all wrong, says food microbiologist Jennifer Quinlan.
Don't wash poultry at all, she says.
"The reality is the water is hitting the chicken," Quinlan said. "Much is going down [the drain], but then you have what is called aerosolization—an invisible spray that's going to potentially carry that bacteria for a foot or two feet."
In focus groups and surveys with everyday cooks, the research team found that lots of us think we're doing the right thing.
"Everybody had a unique way of doing it," Quinlan said. "Some people just rinsed it in the sink. Some people rinsed it with vinegar water or lemon water with the idea that it kills all the bacteria."
Washing poultry creates big risks for cross-contamination. Quinlan and colleagues developed a disturbing graphic called "germ vision" to show how chicken water—carrying salmonella—can splash on to clean dishes by the sink or slosh into raw vegetables waiting on the counter.
"There's no benefit," Quinlan said. "You aren't killing the bacteria with the washing, and the cooking is killing anything that was on there to begin with."
Drexel's food safety campaign includes how-to videos, short skits and some campy music to shatter the myths about washing poultry.
Quinlan said old habits are hard to break and this news is the beginning of a long conversation about food safety. But, she said, there's a plus: Not washing chicken actually saves a step and is safer.
She's hoping that Americans will adopt this new way of doing things the same way many of us now use a thermometer to check the temperature of meat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been highlighting its advice against washing poultry since at least 2005.
More how-to-handle poultry tips from food microbiologist Jennifer Quinlan:
1. Remove poultry from packaging, and place on a cutting board
2. After trimming, add your seasonings
3. Transfer poultry directly to the cooking pan
4. Wash cutting board—and all nearby surfaces—with hot soapy water. (No need to use another kind of cleaner)
5. If you have a dishwasher, give the cutting board and utensils a second chance for sanitation in the hot wash cycle