Anyone who’s spent time in the kitchen has likely developed a few tricks to make the cooking process simpler (and the food tastier). Some insist on a specific slicing technique while others keep a garbage bowl for easy scraps disposal. But in the culinary world, not all popular habits are helpful. In fact, some can be downright dangerous!

In 2012, studies conducted by a professor at Drexel University showed that a lot of people were committing a certain culinary sin almost every time they made dinner. Worse yet, this bad kitchen habit had the potential to do some serious harm not just to the meal itself, but to the people cooking it, too…

In 2012, Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences Dr. Jennifer Quinlan and her colleagues at Drexel University received grant money from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The grant funded research into food safety risks.

Drexel University

With this grant, Dr. Quinlan were asked to determine if there were any “unique food safety risks for minority populations.” So she and her team of researchers devised focus groups and surveys to find some answers.

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After studying focus groups comprised of three different minority populations, Dr. Quinlan identified “a couple of different food safety risks.” But one risk stood was common across all three populations…

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Through additional studies, Dr. Quinlan found that the issue in question wasn’t just a common occurrence in minority households. Nearly 90 percent of the population indulged this risky culinary habit! So, what was it?

Drexel University

The research team noticed “that our minority populations reported washing their poultry, sometimes with water, sometimes with warm water,” Dr. Quinlan said. And washing chicken, she said, wasn’t recommended by the USDA. But why?

Drexel University

Anyone with a little bit of kitchen experience knows about the harmful and potentially deadly bacteria that live in and on raw chicken. Two of the more common bacterium, salmonella and campylobacter, have a laundry list of nasty side effects…

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Ingest the bacteria on a raw chicken, and you’re looking at a lovely night of diarrhea, stomachaches, headaches, and more. So why the heck wouldn’t you wash your chicken?

Dr. Quinlan had the answer: “Washing your raw poultry increases you chances of spreading bacteria around your kitchen,” she said. “It does not get rid of bacteria; it does not get kill the bacteria.” And that wasn’t all…

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Dr. Quinlan added, “There is a chance it’s going to spray that bacteria. It’s called aerosolization“; this meant the bacteria you were trying to wash away “might be in your sink, or on you, or on your counter.”

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In other words, when water hits the raw poultry, it bounces or runs off the bird and does the very thing you’d been trying to avoid in the first place! The deflected water carries the germs all over the sink surface—and beyond.

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So how could Dr. Quinlan and her team of experts inform populations of the health risks involved in washing poultry? And could they spread the word on how to kill those terrible bacterium? Thankfully, there is an effective solution!

 “We approached our colleagues at New Mexico State University who had the expertise in the development of education material,” Dr. Quinlan said. Professors there had a few recommendations on spreading the word to minority groups.

The experts at New Mexico State suggested Dr. Quinlan develop photo novellas to reach a broader range of people and create shareable videos for online so the information could spread via social media—not just by word of mouth. So Dr. Quinlan made both…

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One photo novella illustrated a husband ready to wash a chicken before putting it into a stir fry, while the wife politely informed him of the harm this would actually cause. The novellas were fun, if not a bit cheesy. And the videos?

A popular video distributed by Dr. Quinlan as part of her “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” campaign featured a young girl getting ready to cook a lemon-baked chicken for her family. She prepared to wash her poultry. And then…

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The mom heroically turned off the faucet before her daughter could rinse it. The daughter protested—she claimed she learned all about bacteria in science class—before the mom told her the truth about how to properly kill those bacterium.

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The method for killing bacteria is simple and easy, if not a little bit anti-climactic. All you need to do—as mentioned by the “heroes” of the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” campaign—is one simple thing…

Just cook the bird—and that’s it! “What’s really going to kill that bacteria that we know is on the chicken is proper cooking,” Dr. Quinlan said, “and that’s really all that’s going to completely get rid of that bacteria.” Easy!

Ultimately, Dr. Quinlan knew that her message would take a long time to catch on throughout different communities. She hoped in about 10 to 15 years, though, the knowledge to not wash raw chicken would be about as common as using a kitchen thermometer.

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For more information on the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” campaign, check out the video below. Thankfully, this is a handy bit of information to keep in mind the next time you’re cooking chicken!

Remember: while washing your chicken just feels like a smart idea, you should listen to the experts. Don’t wash your raw chicken!

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