Should Raw Meat Be Washed First? What’s Your Practice?

I’ve always rinsed raw meat and poultry 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 rinse before frying.

Why take this extra step and is it even necessary?

We’re working off the theory that by washing meat products first, we’ll flush away any surface bacteria that may be present. Sounds smart right! Well, not so fast.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this isn’t a recommended practice:

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.

(read this page for complete article)

What’s the problem? Instead of going directly from package to pan, the product is being handled longer and the danger of contaminating multiple surfaces increases. You’re handling it 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 heating the product 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 flavor is being flushed away when it’s first washed and just isn’t necessary.

Knowing how easy it is to cross contaminate, I always give my hands a good scrub with soapy water 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 feel the need to do this with hot dogs, bacon slices, ground beef or turkey…but will rinse poultry, beef cuts of all kinds, pork chops, sausage links. Why I will for some cuts 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 and trust that the high heat from cooking will kill off anything nasty?

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    • laswa

    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

      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

        • lee

        Thanks for sharing Paul. That’s why I buy my meat from a local farmer at the farmer’s market. It’s always frozen solid at a local meat processing plant.

    • R

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

    • yvonne language

    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

    • Cheryl

    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.

    • Brenda

    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.

    • Julie Andrea

    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. 🙂

    • Chris

    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……

    • Gina

    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.

    • Barbara

    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

      • Jewell


    • Frank

    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.

      • lee

      Great comment! I couldn’t have said it better.

    • Jess

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

    • sugar

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

      • lee

      I became a part-time vegetarian the more I read about meat and how the USDA officials retire after a few years to go work for the meat packing industry in a cushy high-paying job. After hearing about such unscrupulousness, I don’t trust a thing the USDA recommends as they’re not looking out for us and our safety as much as they are for the profits of the meat industry.

    • marry

    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 🙂

    • David

    I keep kosher and aside from not eating pork or shellfish, another aspect of keeping kosher is to not consume blood or fat. After cutting away any excess fat and visible blood clots, Kosher meat should always be rinsed, soaked for at least 30 min, rinsed again, salted with salt crystals on an incline to not only absorb the blood, but to also allow it to drain out completely. This should be done for at least 1 hour. Then rinse it again for up to three times to get rid of all the salt crystals that was on it. Then the meat is ready to be cooked, or frozen for use at a later date. This of course is only if you are keeping kosher and buy meat out of the regular meat case at the store which is what I do because kosher meat itself is more expensive that other meats. But I always wash my hands before, during and after this process. I also wipe down the cutting board and sink thoroughly with bleach water that I have in a spray bottle and a clean rag.

    • Brandon H

    I wash ground beef but not for bacteria or reducing the blood content. I wash ground beef because of preservatives and additives. After reading other people’s comments for residual contents of other prepared meats.

    • Memo

    The thing is because these meats have fat and fat is not soluble in water, rinsing with water actually does not do any good! If you would wash it with soap then you might argue your cleaning the exterior but who in their right mind will wash meat with soap! Its just all in your head rinsing it gives a false sense of cleanliness.

      • CM

      It’s not about cleanliness!! It’s about ridding the meat of heart clogging grease. Of course you wouldn’t rinse a hamburger patty after eating, but if you’re making chili, beef vegetable soup, or some other similar dish, it won’t matter as far as taste goes. I brown the meat, then rinse under HOT water until all the grease is washed away. According to searches online, this removes 50% of the calories from fat. Don’t rinse with cold water or the grease will just congeal on the meat. As an example, for chili all the other ingredients (chili powder, onion, etc.) compensate for the taste lost from rinsing the meat. If you don’t care about calories or your heart, don’t rinse!!

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