Should You Wash Your Raw Chicken?

Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health

The recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consumer warning stating there is no need to wash raw chicken during food preparation has stirred up quite a public health conversation. According to the CDC, washing raw chicken increases the chance of spreading pathogens (or “germs”) such as Campylobacter and Salmonella from the chicken to other foods, utensils and/or countertops. The CDC stands firm that all bacteria are killed off once chicken or poultry is cooked to a proper internal temperature of 165°F.

Unfortunately, not washing chicken before cooking does not sit well with many individuals. Professor Evans Afriyie-Gyawu, Ph.D., an environmental health and food safety/toxicology scientist and Georgia Southern doctoral student Paige Perry, a certified food safety specialist, say they can see both the CDC’s position and the sociocultural perspective of people in the U.S. In fact, from Afriyie-Gyawu’s in-class and personal discussions (non-scientific) with more than 15 individuals on campus, all African Americans/Africans (100%) versus 20% of Caucasian Americans would wash their raw chicken before cooking.

“While we need to consider the CDC’s statement, we also need to consider the psychological, social and cultural implications of not washing raw chicken before cooking,” states Afriyie-Gyawu. “We should not neglect the fact that not every food handler strictly adheres to basic hygiene practices. We may not only be dealing with bacteriological aspects of the issue; the chicken may be contaminated with chemical and/or physical agents as well.”

Afriyie-Gyawu and Perry maintain that “if we are considering a commercial setting then it would be prudent to follow the CDC’s recommendation, by not washing the chicken before cooking it. This is because of the huge volume of chicken that needs to be washed during preparation, and the chances of spreading the bacteria and contaminating other food items are high.”

However, they add, “If we are looking into an individual’s home setting, plus trying to address the sociocultural concerns about this issue, then it may be a good idea to CAREFULLY wash raw chicken before cooking it. Of paramount importance is proper disinfection of the prep area to avoid cross contamination. While we respect the authority of the CDC and its reputable advisories, it is important to also educate and promote using caution and proper sanitary practices during and after washing – for individuals who socially and culturally believe strongly that chicken must be washed before it is cooked.” Studies are warranted to determine if/why there are differences among diverse racial/ethnic groups with respect to whether chicken should be washed before cooking. 

— Evans Afriyie-Gyawu, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Environmental Health Sciences