Do you often wash your newly bought raw chicken at home? Did you know that washing your raw chicken may bring you more harm especially when not handled properly? Disease causing bacteria such as Salmonella is commonly found in raw chicken. Salmonella may cause food poisoning leading to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea 1-3 days after ingestion of contaminated food. They can also be found in raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish, eggs, unpasteurized dairy products, unwashed fruits and raw vegetables (melons and sprouts) and even from touching certain animals, such as chickens, ducks, and turtles, then putting your hands to your mouth.
The US Department of Agriculture discourages washing or soaking raw poultry because this facilitates the spread of harmful bacteria and droplets may land on countertops, towels, and nearby fresh food items as shown in the photo of this article. Even if you wash your sink, you will not be able to eliminate all harmful bacteria completely. The recommended practice when buying your chicken is to buy it from clean establishments and have it washed at the marketplace or grocery and transfer it directly to a storage container and chill immediately to prevent bacteria from multiplying. The following are some additional ways to prevent Salmonella infection:
1. Don't drink unpasteurized milk or eat foods made with it. Unpasteurized milk is milk that is freshly squeezed from cows and does not undergo any heating or processing. Pasteurization involved heating which normally kills disease causing bacteria. Thus, buy milk that are pasteurized or buy only from reputable sources.
2. Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them. Fruits and vegetables from the market may be contaminated with Salmonella or other disease-causing organisms. Use clean water and do not use bowls or materials that are used to store raw meat, fish or poultry for processing fruits and vegetables.
3. Keep the refrigerator colder than 40°F (4.4°C) and the freezer below 0°F (-18°C). Cold temperature controls the growth of bacteria and extends the shelf life of perishable goods which makes them safe for consumption.
4. Cook meat and seafood until well done. Undercooked meat or seafood may also contain live Salmonella which may cause infection.
5. Cook eggs until the yolk is firm. Chickens are asymptomatic carriers of Salmonella. Some of the bacteria are even passed to eggs through the yolk. Thus, there is a risk of Salmonella infection from undercooked egg yolk or from tasting uncooked batters made with egg.
6. Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after they touch raw food. Kitchen utensils can transmit the bacteria and contaminate ready to serve or uncooked food items such as fruits and salads. Thus, always have a separate set of tools for raw, cooked and uncooked food items.
Salmonella infection is suspected if a person developed symptoms 1 - 3 days after ingestion or exposure to possible sources. It can be treated at home by drinking plenty of liquids with water, salt and sugar or juice, flavored soda or soup broth to address fluid loss due to diarrhea. If symptoms persist such as high-grade fever with bloody stools for more than 3 days, consult your doctor immediately. After recovery, start tracing back possible causes and remember to follow food safety practices mentioned in this article.
- UpToDate (2021). Patient education: Salmonella infection (The Basics). UpToDate. Date Accessed 28 October 2021 Retrieved from
- Raymond, J. L., & Morrow, K. (2020). Krause and Mahan’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Henley, S. C., Gleason, J., & Quinlan, J. J. (2016). Don’t wash your chicken!: A food safety education campaign to address a common food mishandling practice. Food Prot Trends, 36, 43-53.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases (DFWED) (2021). Chicken and Food Poisoning. cdc.gov. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/chicken.html
- New Mexico State University & Drexel University. (2013). Don't Wash Your Chicken! Germ-Vision Animation. YouTube. Date Accessed 28 October 2021. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZXDotD4p9c.