Why did the chicken cross the road? So you wouldn't give it a bath.

Drexel University professors are on a mission to get people to stop washing their chicken.

It is a commonly held illusion that washing raw chicken prior to cooking prevents foodborne illness, they say. In fact, the opposite is true, according to food safety researcher Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, an associate professor at Drexel, who helped develop the university's new “Don't Wash Your Chicken” public health campaign.

The campaign features four “mini-drama” videos and photonovellas involving the preparation of chicken stir-fry, chicken mole, lemon-roasted chicken and oven-roasted chicken. (Guided recipes accompany each story.) In each, a knowing family member — wife, granddaughter, daughter and mother — explains to a well-intentioned home cook that the common practice of rinsing raw poultry before cooking is actually unsafe. An animated “Germ-Vision” graphic then shows the graphic reality of the bacteria-spray that happens when you wash chicken. Some studies suggest bacteria can fly as far as three feet away from where the meat is rinsed.


Mother: “Mija. I'm making my secret mole recipe. Please come here and wash the chicken.”

Daughter: “You're not supposed to wash raw chicken.”

Mother: “Why not? I always wash raw chicken.”

Daughter: “I know you do. It grosses me out! I learned in school that washing raw poultry just spreads bacteria.”

Pure Shakespeare!

“You should assume that if you have chicken, you have either Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria on it, if not both,” Quinlan says on the Drexel website. These two bacteria are the leading causes of food-borne illness, she notes. “If you wash it, you're more likely to spray bacteria all over the kitchen and yourself.”

Credit: Drexel University/New Mexico State University

Credit: Drexel University/New Mexico State University

Quinlan developed the campaign with graduate student Shauna Henley as an outgrowth of a USDA-funded research effort to identify and address unique food safety risks in racial and ethnic minority populations in the U.S. As they reported in the Journal of Food Protection, focus groups with consumers representing three different minority groups showed that washing raw poultry was a common unsafe practice in all the groups.

A subsequent larger survey showed the practice was common across the board. “It was slightly more in the minority population, but still an average of 90 percent of the population washes chicken,” Quinlan said.

When they found that few educational materials were available to inform people that washing raw chicken is unsafe, Quinlan and Henley worked with collaborators at New Mexico State University's Department of Media Productions to develop the “Don't Wash Your Chicken” campaign.

Unfortunately, people are very attached to the idea of washing raw poultry, Quinlan says. “Some think they're cleaning off germs. Some just want to get slime off or feel like it's dirty.”

Instead, you should take raw poultry straight from the package into the cooking pan, she says. The heat from cooking will kill any bacteria that are present.

Or you could just go to Popeyes.

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