This issue isn’t limited to the UK. It’s a major problem in the US as well. The problem is that washing your raw chicken can lead to cross-contamination of a bacteria called campylobacter, which is one of the most common culprits of in-home food poisonings in the US. When you wash raw chicken, it enables the bacteria to spread by clinging to your hands, clothes, and work surfaces around the kitchen. The vast majority of these food poisonings happen as isolated events, and not as part of a wider outbreak.
It sort of goes against conventional wisdom, and it’s probably why so many people still do it. When we wash something, our impression is it becomes cleaner, and therefore safer to consume. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with raw meats. They can carry the campylobacter bacteria, and when washed, the bacteria can be spread around the kitchen, creating a larger likelihood of food poisoning.
This “no washing raw meat” advice is recommended by the US Department of Agriculture, and most food safety experts agree this is something that home cooks shouldn’t be doing. The only way to kill bacteria on your poultry is to cook it until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.
In most cases, campylobacter poisoning results in abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, fever and vomiting, but it can be even more severe and lead to death on rare occasions. It can also lead to a number of other significant intestinal health problems.
Even mild cases of this food poisoning can be quite costly for a family’s finances. Contracting this can keep a person home from work for several days losing those wages, and make them less productive long after that. A trip to the doctor’s office (or emergency room in severe cases) is not out of the question, and both prescription and over-the-counter medications may need to be taken. Then there is the lost productivity cost for those who have to take care of the person who is sick. For all these reasons, those who cook poultry need to be more aware of the risks of washing raw meat, and immediately stop this practice.
(Photo courtesy of teresatrimm)