Should Meat Be Washed First Before Cooking?

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I’ve always rinsed raw meat before cooking (especially chicken or turkey…inside & out) and I know more than one person who crumbles apart ground beef, ground turkey and even separates bacon slices to wash before frying. Why? We’re working off the theory that by rinsing meat first, we’ll wash away any surface bacteria that may be present.

Even Ground Meats Aren't Safe From Some Raw Meat Washers

Even Ground Meats Aren't Safe From Some Raw Meat Washers

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this isn’t a recommended practice (see Washing or Soaking Meat and Poultry):

Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking it is not recommended. Some consumers think they are removing bacteria from the meat and making it safe.

For safety, use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops can be cooked to 145°F. All cuts of pork should reach 160°F. All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.

What’s the problem? Instead of going directly from package to pan, the meat is being handled longer and the danger of contaminating multiple surfaces increases. You’re washing meat in the sink, touching faucets and taps which are all now contamination points when they have no need to be (including any splashes that land outside the sink area). These contamination points are now primed and ready to be transferred to other food items as you are prepping them either by direct contact or transferred by your hands. Instead of concerns about surface bacteria, there is now a greater possibility of E. coli (Escherichia coli) and salmonella contamination to other food items (these can live on surfaces even after being wiped clean if done improperly).

Since you’re cooking meat and poultry to safe temperatures regardless of whether you’re rinsing it off first or not, any bacteria present will be killed by the heat. Many also insist that some of the meat’s flavor is being washed away and just isn’t necessary.

Knowing how easy it is to cross contaminate, I always wash my hands well along with all surfaces before I bring out the next food item to prep…so I don’t know if that danger is reason enough for me to stop a decades long practice (which is now a mind game for me since I don’t consider unwashed meat clean enough to cook). Oddly enough, I don’t rinse hot dogs, bacon slices, ground meats…but will wash poultry, beef cuts of all kinds, pork chops, sausage links. Why I will for some cuts of meat and not for others, and be fine with it, I have no explanation.

When it comes to determining whose logic is the best bet, mine or the USDA’s, even I hesitate to ignore their advice. I’m curious, are you a raw meat rinser and will you continue to do so even knowing it’s not recommended? Or is it time to break this habit?

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Published: June 22, 2011

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14 Comments to “Should Meat Be Washed First Before Cooking?”
  1. laswa says:

    I have never even heard of this. The only time I have ever rinsed meat is if chunks (cut up chicken or roasts) are a little slimy or smell strange to me, and I only do it then so I can get a good sniff. Believe it or not, I have taken meat (especially chicken) out of the package straight from the store and had it be slimy and/or smell bad. The first few times I took it back to the store where they assured me that it was always like that, a good argument for buying locally raised, I think. Assuming that it is true, which I am not convinced of….
    I trust my nose more than anything when it comes to meat, if it smells bad, it is bad, But if it smells okay, the heat will kill anything I would otherwise worry about.

    • Paul says:

      Hey i used to deliver chicken to outlets from the processors, i worked for a contractor. The place where the chicken is processed is regulated, not the guy delivering the produce, bar from having a refridgerated truck.The boss had me turn off the cooling after 2 hours, to save on costs.After my run all that was required was for me to hose the inside of the truck down(no detergent).The last day i worked for him i was loading the truck with chicken and various cuts that were packed in crates.To load those crates on i used a hook to drag them onto the truck, when it slipped off the crate and stabbed me in the leg, which resulted in a scrath.Driving up the highway towards were i was to begin my run, which was two hours away, i started to shake, and breake out in hot and cold sweats and losing my vision.I lay down in the cabin and fought this bug that had taken control of my body.I pressed on after approx 5 hours, and delivered my load to the various outlets. The product was well below the acceptable temperature, but was accepted.From that experience, i have refused to buy store sold chicken.When i reported what had happened to me i was sacked.I don’t miss eating chicken

  2. R says:

    I don’t like to rinse meat since that washes away a lot of the b vitamins.

  3. yvonne language says:

    i think meat should definitly be washed before cooking, many hands handled the meat before you buy it, I normally rinse the meat in water and vinegar,as vinegar is a natural way to kill harmfull bacteria. Never use meat that is smelly or slimy.
    heat will kill anything you would not worry about, but the taste is awefull

  4. Cheryl says:

    I’ve never heard of anyone rinsing ground meat, though I do add a bit of water to the pan while browning beef. If the meat is cooked thoroughly, I imagine any bacteria would be killed. I do rinse chicken…whole and especially boneless breasts, as they are always seem a bit slimy and sometimes smell, as laswa stated, right from the store. Rinsing usually takes care of both those problems.

  5. Brenda says:

    I try and wash all my meat and veggies, I get grossed out wondering who touched it before me. It has been handled several times and who is to say that person wore gloves or washed their hands after doing whatever! I am smart enough to realize the cross contamination point and use a spray bottle with bleach all the time in my kitchen and bathroom.
    I will always wash whatever food I can, seems to work for us.

  6. Julie Andrea says:

    I wouldn’t rinse ground meat, but simmer it very well with some water and skim the fat off. 100% always rinse off meats that have bones in them and have been cut through on the band saw. Some of the bone dust usually remains on the meat and to me, that just HAS to go!! Also, I rinse off all chicken and turkey, other than ground. You just never know where things land in the butcher shop and whether or not workers wash their hands. Ha .. but then again, I wash my bananas, watermelon .. all fruit and veg. :-)

  7. Chris says:

    I don’t always rinse meat, but sometimes with meat that has bones I do….there are sometimes pieces of bone left from the cutting….I have also rinsed chicken breasts…..I also think about how many people handle things…..some will wear gloves, but the people putting out the groceries won’t be….that includes the wrapped packages of meat….everything has to be handled and you can bet some of those people are sick…..I think for the most part people should do what THEY think is best……

  8. Gina says:

    I only rinse something that’s got a lot of bloody juices on it. Most meat is packaged so that the juices like that are absorbed onto a pad. I’m not bragging but I’ve never had a foodborne illness which many of my more “cautious” friends cannot say. There’s common sense and there’s compulsiveness. Bacteria generally lives a short life span as far as surface packaging and there’s also good bacteria which is needed to counter the bad bacteria. If you go overboard, you kill both off which can sometimes leave you even more susceptible to bad bacteria. One example is the antibacterial soap. Soap is already naturally antibacterial. When you add even more chemicals to it, it also destroys the good. Studies have shown that antibacterial soap is not as effective as regular soap.

  9. Barbara says:

    First of all, chicken should NEVER smell strange or bad when purchased and if it does, return it to the store and demand a refund. I don’t eat red meat, but if I did, I would wash it. I buy chicken breasts, boneless, skinless chicken thighs and pork tenderloins that have a 7 days freshness date on the package and freeze them immediately for future use. I thaw the product in the refrigerator, then set the package right in the sink, where I clean, wash and use the show-pak as a cutting board to cut it, if desired. With boneless, skinless chicken thighs, I trim a LOT of fat and sinew that the machine doesn’t trim, then rinse it under cold running water, cut them in 3rds while still holding them in my hands, then placing them directly in the bowl of spiced/yogurt paste that I’m going to marinade them in. Nothing touches my counter, nothing splashes out of the sink. I use a paper towel to turn on the hot water and then use it to scour the sink with comet afterwards. As for the slime on chicken, I encounter that a lot and have come to the conclusion that it’s just a natural part of the chicken that we have to wash off. For those that don’t wash and trim chicken before cooking it, please don’t invite me to dinner… lol

  10. Frank says:

    Of course you should wash all meats and poultry before cooking. Every packaged meat or poultry in the US is covered in additives and artificial coloring, not to mention blood and pieces of bone and loose cartilage in poultry. It is asinine to tell people not to rinse the meat because you would spread bacteria. You spread bacteria if you are the novice (not to use a more offensive word) that does not take precautions and use the same sink, cutting board and knife that you used with the meat to clean your lettuce. It drives me insane when government and other people assume that every citizen is an idiot and they are better off not handling a product rather than instructing them to do it with the proper safety procedures.

  11. Jess says:

    I always clean any meat I buy. With Lime or Vinegar and actually your also seseaoning it with that too!

  12. sugar says:

    If anyone is that worried about the problems with meat they can always turn vegetarian!

  13. marry says:

    omg i used to think that only us asian women are soo particular about cooking details and all… hey but no!! women are the same :)


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