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Should Meat Be Washed First Before Cooking?

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 [1]):

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?