Long ago when I was in college I started making my mom’s fried chicken. It was comfort food at its best. Mom gave me directions over the phone.
Her first step: wash the chicken breasts before cooking them. In fact she and my cooking maven roommates all agreed–wash all forms of meat before cooking it.
I did this faithfully for years. The only exceptions to this rule were bacon and ground meat. I wasn’t sure how to go about washing them without making them all soggy.
Then one day, I started putting two-and-two together.
Why do I wash the raw steaks but not the ground beef?
Both steaks and ground beef are butchered and pass through who-knows-what sorts of processing plants before landing on my countertop. Both are exposed to the same kinds of bacteria as they make their journey to my fridge. Didn’t the heat from the oven or stovetop kill all those nasty germs? Why would it work for the ground beef and not the steak?
I sat with this question a long time before deciding to take the leap and forgo that particular cooking ritual. The first few times I did it, I held my breath in hopes that my instincts had not been wrong.
Fortunately for all of us, no one ever got sick. Was it a fluke? Had I been lucky?
My sister-in-law brought this up to me in a conversation we had recently. She asked if I wash meat before cooking it and, when I admitted I didn’t, a knot formed in the pit of my stomach. I wondered if all this time I had been putting everyone at risk for getting e.coli or something just as dangerous. Up until then, I had gone on instinct. I never took the initiative to go look up the actual rules. I’m glad she brought it up because it made me do some research to find the real answer and now I can share with you what I found.
Should you wash raw meat before cooking it?
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the answer to that question is a resounding NO. It is not recommended to wash your meat before cooking it because–and this is important–a cook takes a much greater risk of cross-contamination by washing the meat beforehand. The water splashes, your hands touch it, then you touch the faucet, and then who knows what else before getting the dripping meat to a tray. The splashes in and around the sink touch nearby rags, utensils, and platters you might be using for cooking and/or serving. Any drips that make their way to the floor could have residual bacteria in them, having the potential to infect your dog who licks it off the floor or your child who plays in the water and then sticks her fingers in her mouth.
When it comes to washing raw meat, there is no question about it. The answer is definitively do not wash your meat before cooking it. Instead, buy yourself a good thermometer probe (I recommend the Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer) and make sure to follow the minimum internal temperature guidelines as recommended by the USDA:
- Steaks and Roasts: 145°F
- Fish: 145°F
- Pork: 160°F
- Ground Beef: 160°F
- Egg Dishes: 160°F
- Chicken Breasts: 165°F
- Whole Poultry: 165°F
Alternatively, not washing produce well enough, especially fruits and veggies you are not peeling or cooking, will put you at just as much risk for ingesting something awful. Therefore, do make sure to wash fruits and vegetables, especially if you are not cooking them or heating them through.
For more information about food safety, go to the USDA website.
Have a question about food safety? Drop it in the comment section below. I love hearing from you. Your questions inspire what I write!
This article was first published for Kitchen Dilettante at srdryja.wordpress.com. Due to the overwhelming popularity of this article, I am reposting it at my new location here at kitchendilettante.wordpress.com. I will be using the questions you have asked over the years as a springboard for more articles to come. Thank you for all your questions and comments! Keep ‘em coming!