It is a question that has been asked and answered many times throughout the years, yet the debate still rages. And why not, when professional and well-respected chefs such as Julia Child and Jacques Pepin can’t even agree? Do you need to wash raw chicken before cooking it? Child insisted that chicken should be washed before cooking, while Pépin disagreed, explaining that the heat from the cooking process would kill off any germs. So which way is correct?
According to a study done by researchers at Drexel University, Pépin was right; there is simply no need to wash chicken. You may think you are washing germs off the poultry but, in reality, you are just splashing and spreading those germs around your sink and countertop areas. Much of the chicken purchased at the grocery store is already carrying Campylobacter or salmonella bacteria, which can cause severe cases of food poisoning. Neither hot water nor a fruit acid wash will kill those bacteria; they can only be eradicated by thoroughly cooking the poultry.
When cooking, always use a meat thermometer and allow the internal temp of your chicken to reach 165 °F, the safe, desired degree of doneness according to FDA guidelines. Regardless of whether you boil, roast, grill or fry your chicken, and regardless of whether it is bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skinless, the bird must reach this internal temperature in order for the bacteria to be killed off and for you to feel good about serving the poultry to your family and friends. After all, food safety is a huge part of being a good Southern hostess.
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If you are put off by the sliminess of raw chicken, you can pat it down and dry it off with a paper towel – then promptly throw that paper towel in the trash. Remember to prep the chicken on a washable surface. Despite the science that supports not washing chicken, some cooks still prefer to do so, either out of habit or because that is how they were taught. If you choose to rinse the chicken take the necessary steps to disinfect any surfaces the splashing liquid may have come in contact with: countertops, sink, nearby dishes, your clothes, etc. And always wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat or any food or tool that has come into contact with it.