Cross contamination risk from washing raw chicken

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Microbiology, Bacteria

"Germ Vision" visualization shows washing raw poultry spreads bacteria.
"Germ Vision" visualization shows washing raw poultry spreads bacteria.
Washing raw chicken is still common despite the risk of cross contamination and spreading foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, according to US researchers.

Reasons include some people thinking they’re cleaning off germs and others wanting to get slime off or feeling like it’s dirty, said the team behind the “Don’t wash your chicken!” campaign.

It should be assumed that Salmonella and Campylobacter are on chicken and washing only serves to spray bacteria over the kitchen and the person doing the washing, they added.

Long-standing USDA approach

Dr Jennifer Quinlan, an associate professor at Drexel University, said USDA has had a long standing recommendation not to wash chicken and raw meat.

“People don’t understand that bacteria is higher than in produce, which may have other things there, so it causes confusion among consumers that they should wash produce but not raw meat and poultry,”​ she told

Quinlan said it was a simple thing as they were actually asking consumers to do less.

“People need to understand cross contamination and know that pathogens are on the chicken and cooking kills them. Water is cross contamination, even if you use diluted vinegar wash or lemon wash.”

When washing chicken, a droplet splash study indicated that droplets could travel up to 50cm in front of the sink and 60/70 cm to the sides, according to a 2003 R&D report from Campben BRI​.

This splashing transferred the bacterial pathogens present on meat and did not appear to reduce levels of microbial contamination on meat surfaces.

Consumer reaction

Quinlan et al published a study in the Journal of Food Protection​ looking at focus groups to see who and how many people washed chicken and the research formed the basis of this campaign.

“There has been a mixed reaction, one group never wash and never thought of washing it and others say thanks for the information I didn’t know I didn’t have to wash it so I won’t now,” ​she said.

“There is another group that have always washed it and can’t be convinced otherwise. We aim to say here is the risk and it is the consumer who makes the choice.

“It is similar to the use of thermometers and how it was as people need to understand where the risk is so we need to communicate the risk clearly.”

The “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” food safety campaign was developed by Drexel researchers in collaboration with New Mexico State University.

When asked about the need for prevention, rather than reaction, she added: “There is far more money on research for prevention and it is a focus for not being able to eliminate Campylobacter or Salmonella.

“Resources are more towards the farm and agriculture end and incidents going down would be nice but people are still eating raw meat, so we need to be aware of the pathogens and the spoilage.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

Related news

Show more

Follow us


View more