The holidays are a time for feasting, which means they are also a time for food poisoning.
A lot of people automatically think that good food hygiene comes down to washing… which may be all well and good for your hands. But should you wash chicken before cooking?
Should you wash chicken before cooking?
No. Washing raw chicken or turkey is risky because it can spread bacteria onto your hands and other surfaces. Worse still, it could spread germs to other food in the vicinity.
Washing poultry is also totally unnecessary, as proper cooking will kill any bacteria on it anyway.
Yet according to a survey by the Food Safety Information Council and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, 49% of cooks are still taking a risk with washing their chicken before they cook it.
Thankfully, this is somewhat less than it was a decade ago.
“We are pleased that rates of washing raw whole chicken has reduced from 60% to 49% since we last asked this question in 2011. Cooks who wash raw chicken pieces with skin on has also reduced from 52% to 43% and washing skinless pieces from 41% to 40%,” says Cathy Moir, chair of the Food Safety Information Council.
“The survey found that chicken is a popular dish, with 78% of respondents cooking whole chicken, 83% cooking chicken pieces with skin on, and 88% cooking skinless pieces. But the message is that washing any raw poultry, whether it is chicken, duck, goose or the Christmas turkey, is both unsafe and unnecessary.”
11 tips to avoid food poisoning
According to Moir, there are a number of things we can do – besides safely refreezing raw chicken – to ensure we have a food-safe summer.
- Wash hands:
Another recent survey found the number of times people wash their hands each day dropped 15% since last year. Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and water before preparing and cooking food, and after handling egg shells, seafood, raw meat and poultry, burgers and sausages. Watch how to wash your hands correctly using the Glitterbug here
- Clean utensils:
Ensure your tools, utensils and chopping boards are cleaned and dried thoroughly before you start preparing your food, and clean them with hot soapy water after use. Use separate chopping boards for raw meat/poultry and vegetables.
- Don’t strain your fridge:
Plan ahead so you don’t buy more food than you need. It’s vital that you don’t overstock your fridge and freezer, as this won’t allow the cool air to circulate freely, meaning perishable food might not be adequately frozen or chilled. Less food will also help to reduce food waste.
- Make space:
Prevent overstocking by making room in your fridge for perishable foods by removing alcohol and soft drinks – put them on ice in a container or the laundry sink. This also stops guests opening the fridge so often and helps to maintain the temperature at 5°C or below. Use a fridge thermometer to check the temperature.
- Bird or bits?
Think about getting a turkey breast (it’s simpler to cook) rather than a whole turkey. If you do need a whole turkey, try to buy one fresh rather than frozen. Otherwise it must be covered and defrosted in your fridge, which can take several days and also increase the risk of potentially contaminating ready-to-eat foods stored in the fridge.
- Cook poultry correctly:
Cook poultry until a meat thermometer shows it has reached 75°C in the thickest part of the thigh, and cook any stuffing separately as it will slow the cooking and the inside of the bird might not be fully cooked. Probe thermometers are readily available, easy to use and help you make sure that food has reached the right temperature.
- Don’t go raw:
Cooked egg dishes are simple and nutritious but try to avoid raw or minimally cooked egg dishes, such as raw egg mayonnaise or aioli, eggnog or fancy desserts like tiramisu, which can be a particular risk for food poisoning. A safer alternative, if you want to serve raw egg dishes, is to use pasteurised egg products.
- Christmas ham won’t last forever:
Check the storage instructions and best-before or use-by date before removing the ham from its plastic wrap, cover it with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out, and store it in the fridge at or below 5°C. Keep the cloth moist to stop the ham drying out too much.
It is important to remember that the use-by date on the original packaging won’t apply after the packaging has been removed, so check the fine print and see if the ham has a suggested shelf life after opening. Reduced salt hams are now becoming popular but will not last as long as conventional hams, so think how much you are going to use in the next week or so and freeze the rest for later.
- Phased roll-out:
Don’t leave perishable chilled foods out for more than two hours. These foods include cold meats, soft cheeses like Camembert and Brie, cold poultry, cooked seafood like prawns and smoked salmon, pâtés, sushi and salads. Put out small amounts and replace them (do not top them up) from the fridge.
- Get it cold, quick:
Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. If perishable foods and leftovers have been left out of the fridge for less than two hours they should be okay to refrigerate or freeze to eat later, so long as they haven’t been sitting out on a hot day. Never eat perishable food that has been unrefrigerated for more than four hours as it may not be safe and should be thrown away. Food should not be refrigerated if it has been outside in the heat for more than an hour and discarded after it has sat outside for 2 hours.
- Get it hot:
Always reheat leftovers to 75°C in the centre of the item or the thickest part to kill any food poisoning bugs. Use a probe thermometer or the auto reheat function of your microwave (following any prompts) to help you make sure that the leftovers have been reheated safely.
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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