Study: Don't wash your raw chicken!

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Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019

The USDA says not to wash your chicken. (Source: NBC)

(NBC) -- It's a question people have been going back and forth on for years -- how should you prep your chicken? If your answer includes a quick rinse in your sink, you might want to stop.

Advice over the years has been conflicting, and even cooking legends Julia Child and Jacques Pepin disagreed on the topic.

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."

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, and most didn't attempt to clean the sink in between.

But even for those who did clean the sink, 14% still were contaminated.

NBC News used black lights to 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."

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," said Dr. Ben Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist with NC State University.

So what's a home chef to do? The USDA says 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.

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