July 23, 2024

Don’t Wash That Bird!

Washing chickens and turkeys before cooking is a common practice in many kitchens that is completely unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Salmonella, Campylobacter, and other pathogenic and potentially deadly bacteria are always going to be on raw chicken. In fact, Campylobacter is found on almost 50% of commercially available whole chickens. Thorough cooking kills those bacteria and makes the meat safe. Rinsing the raw chicken contaminates your sink, countertop, utensils, walls, floors, and everything else in the kitchen (including you) near the sink.

Raw Whole TurkeyMarjorie Davidson, a consumer educator at the FDA, says, “washing raw meat and poultry before cooking makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops.” That will lead to cross-contamination of other foods. And will lead to food poisoning.

I’ve often heard people say they always rinse chickens and turkeys because “they never know who handled the bird before they bought it.” The only thing some “unsanitary” person could add to the bird is more bacteria. Which is only destroyed by cooking.

According to the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension service, research by the UK Food Standards Agency has found that there is a “potential increase in the risk of foodborne illness for individuals who wash chicken before cooking it.” Bacteria present on the poultry travels up to 3 feet from the place the meat is washed. In fact, it becomes airborne! The University has put out a food safety info sheet stressing this point.


  1. So, do you suggest not clean the birds at all, and cook them immediately?! What if I freeze them, how to cook them then, do I need to though, it will have the same effect as the washing, right?

    • Linda Larsen says

      Don’t clean the birds. Freeze them as-is, but put the birds their original wrapping in freezer bags or other containers marked for freezer use. Thaw them in the fridge in their original wrappings. Then just put them into the roasting pan. Washing does not remove bacteria; it just spreads it around. I always cook my turkeys frozen, because it’s a safe approved method and there is much less chance of contaminated juices spreading around the kitchen.

  2. This all seems very reasonable, however, poultry packages always have “juice” in them, so it is necessary to open them in the sink and rise all of that away. I guess we should clean our sinks after handling poultry.

    • Linda Larsen says

      You can do that, but I just open the package and put the juice in the roasting pan right along with the bird. It is, after all, more flavor!

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