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It's not open to debate: Do not wash raw chicken before cooking

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Great Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued a warning Monday morning telling consumers not to wash raw chicken before cooking it. The agency says that washing chicken spreads campylobacter bacteria, a very common cause of food poisoning in Great Britain and the U.S.

The problem is not an isolated one, many cooks right here in the United States wash their raw chicken before cooking it, as do the British, and say they have done it for years. As a matter of fact, just about every cookbook published over the years has recommended rinsing chicken. But guess what folks? They were and are wrong.

Campylobacter and salmonella infections are the most common cause of food poisoning in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These two bacteria cause on average, 1.8 million cases of food-borne illnesses every year in the U.S. In the U.K., over 280,000 people are stricken with campylobacter food-borne illnesses every year..

Most people are quick to say they wash their hands after handling raw chicken, and that is the correct thing to do, but with poultry, it is very common for the meat to have salmonella and/or campylobacter contamination. So what happens when a cook rinses off the chicken pieces before cooking

Cross-contamination is serious

Cross-contamination is caused when contaminated water is splashed onto counter-tops, clothing, pots, dishes, paper towels and utensils on nearby counters, as well as the arms, face and even the hair of someone standing close to the running water at the sink. It has even been proven that slowly running water is not a deterrent to getting water droplets all over everything.

Campylobacter and salmonella can cause a serious, even life-threatening illness, especially in the very young and in those people over the age of 65. Patients are apt to get abdominal pains, severe diarrhea and vomiting. There is a risk of becoming extremely dehydrated, which can lead to death.

In the U.K., the FSA has initiated a campaign to warn consumers about the problem,as well as working with farmers and processing plants in finding ways to reduce contamination. FSA Chief Executive Catherine Brown said. "Campylobacter is a serious issue. Not only can it cause severe illness and death, but it costs the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year as a result of sickness absence."

In the U.S., the USDA has been on the American public's back for years about stopping the dirty habit of washing our chicken. They even had a campaign called “Separate, Don’t Cross-Contaminate,” but it didn't catch on very well. The USDA finally gave a grant to Drexel University to came up with something more catchy, and several really good videos were created that show how and why contamination takes place.

"Don't Wash Your Chicken" campaign

Here are a few pointers to remember about chicken and other meats when handling the raw product. First and foremost, always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any raw meats. Secondly, always cook all meats to the correct internal temperature recommended. You should always make sure chicken juices run clear after cooking and there is no pink meat. Other pointers are as follows:

1. Use the "Don't Wash" rule on all poultry, fish and red meat.

2. Marinating does not sterilize the meat. So carefully remove the meat from marinate and dispose of the liquid carefully.

3. Forget about how fast the water is running out of the faucet, you're not going to wash that meat, anyway.

4. If the chicken or fish is too damp, use a paper towel to pat the meat dry. Toss that paper towel in the trash.

5. Wash your hands with warm water and soap. Dry your hands with a clean paper towel.

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