How to Handle and Cook Poultry So You Don't Get Sick

Always follow these safety guidelines when cooking chicken: Based on recommendations from the CDC and the USDA, these tips will help you prepare chicken safely.

In an April 2019 tweet, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned consumers not to wash or rinse raw chicken before cooking it. This was already the standard for the CDC, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen for years, but the CDC's tweet still sparked some debate. Some agreed that there's no reason to rinse raw chicken, while others argued that it's necessary to wash off some of the sliminess that results from the packaging. But rinsing your raw chicken (or any meat) isn't just unnecessary, it can be dangerous. Thanks to a recent study, the USDA is expanding on the CDC's previous warning.

raw chicken thighs in plastic container

Jason Donnelly

Raw chicken, along with all raw meat, can carry bacteria, and when you rinse it with your faucet or sprayer in the sink, you risk splashing those bacteria all around your kitchen. The bacteria can splash down into your sink, and water with bacteria from the meat could splash on your counters, your clothes, and other food or utensils nearby. Any of those surfaces can become contaminated, and give you and your family food poisoning.

According to the USDA's recent study, you shouldn't rinse raw meat or poultry. Not only does potentially harmful bacteria splash into the sink, but bacteria can accumulate in large numbers in the basin. This opens up the possibility of cross-contaminating other ready-to-eat foods like fruits and veggies, when washed in the same sink later.

It's not just rinsing chicken that's dangerous. The USDA also mentions avoiding methods like submerging raw chicken in a bowl of water and using the packaging as a container to help rinse off your poultry.

Washing your meat won't kill off or get rid of any germs anyway; the best way to do that is to cook your chicken to a safe internal temperature of 165°F. If you're bothered by the sliminess that sometimes comes with raw poultry straight out the packaging, pat your meat dry with a paper towel before seasoning as a safer alternative to washing raw chicken.

adding spice rub to raw chicken thighs

Jason Donnelly

Tips for Handling Raw Chicken and Poultry

If you're cooking up chicken breasts for dinner tonight or grilling a whole chicken keep food safety top of mind. Here are a few other tips you should always follow when you're working with raw chicken and other poultry.

Store it Right

Proper storage is the first step in ensuring safe-to-eat poultry.

In the fridge: For safety and optimal freshness, the answer to "how long is raw chicken good in the fridge" is one to two days. This applies to poultry pieces such as breasts as well as fresh whole chickens

In the freezer: Keep your purchased fresh poultry pieces tightly wrapped in the freezer up to nine months. Whole chickens and turkeys can be frozen for a full year.

Prevent dripping juices: Whether your raw poultry is going straight from the grocery bag to the fridge or moving from freezer to fridge to thaw, place the container in a disposable bag or food storage container that can be thoroughly washed. This prevents juices from raw chicken in the fridge from dripping onto other foods or shelves.

Keep it in the fridge: Never marinate or thaw poultry on the counter. Always keep poultry in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.

Prep it Safely

When you're ready to start cooking with your safely stored poultry, keep these food handling tips in mind.

Keep it clean. Always wash your hands, work surfaces, the sink, and utensils in hot, soapy water after handling raw poultry, to prevent spreading bacteria to other foods.

Cut right. When cutting raw poultry, use a plastic cutting board; it's easier to clean and disinfect than a wooden one.

Don't stuff it early. If you're planning to stuff a whole bird, do so immediately before cooking. Never allow the stuffing to touch raw poultry unless you are going to cook both right away.

Avoid cross-contamination. Never use the same plate or utensils for uncooked and cooked poultry unless you have thoroughly washed them first. This rule applies to basting brushes as well. If you are going to baste the bird, wash the brush each time.

Also, heat any marinade or basting sauce that has been in contact with the raw poultry if it is to be served with the cooked poultry. Juices from the uncooked poultry may contain bacteria. Or, before you start basting, set some of the sauce aside to serve with the poultry.

Serve poultry immediately after cooking it. Don't let it stand at room temperature longer than two hours, or bacteria will multiply rapidly, especially in warm weather. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.

Reheat wisely. Heat leftover gravy to a rolling boil in a covered saucepan, stirring occasionally, for food-safety assurance.

Use your favorite method for cooking chicken and turkey or let our chicken breast recipes, chicken thigh recipes, or classic roast turkey recipe inspire new culinary creations.

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  1. "Food Safety Consumer Research Project: Meal Preparation Experiment Related to Poultry Washing." United States Department of Agriculture. pp. 1-5. 2019.

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