Don’t Wash Your Chicken in the Sink and Other Bad Food Safety Habits

I’m currently editing my final research paper from graduate school for publication, and while most of it is highly technical, there is one section which seemed appropriate for this blog. So here it is, two paragraphs from the intro of my research paper, lightly edited for clarity:

Salmonella enterica is frequently associated with poultry and eggs, though beef, pork, fruits and vegetables, spices and peanut butter have all caused salmonellosis outbreaks (10-12). However, Salmonella Heidelberg, Typhimurium, and Enteritidis are all very strongly associated with poultry and eggs, especially chicken and turkey (9, 10). In spite of S. enterica’s association with poultry and eggs, no serovar of S. enterica is currently considered an adulterant (i.e., prohibited) in raw poultry or eggs. However, USDA performance standards dictate that no more than 9.8% of young broilers (5/51 sampled), 25% of ground chicken samples, and 15.4% of chicken parts sampled can be positive for S. enterica (13, 14). To achieve this benchmark, companies employ a number of pathogen-reduction steps during slaughter and processing, including the use of high temperatures and employing antimicrobials in scald, chill, and wash water (15, 16). Nonetheless, these measures do not entirely eliminate S. enterica.

….In theory, proper cooking by the consumer will kill all bacteria, rendering processing plant precautions less important. However, research indicates few U.S. consumers use meat thermometers for cooking poultry and many still wash carcasses in the kitchen sink and share cutting boards between poultry and other foods (27-29). Consequently, bacteria which survive processing plants’ pathogen reduction measures can readily cross-contaminate consumers’ kitchens or ready-to-eat foods and cause illness. In view of this, understanding the intrinsic bacterial factors affecting the efficacy of processing plants’ pathogen reduction measures is crucial in order to improve their efficacy and reduce the number of bacteria reaching consumers…

In case you got lost in the sciencese, the gist is that companies are allowed to have S. enterica in a certain percentage of their raw chicken products. This is enforced by sporadic testing by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. The rule on Salmonella dates back several decades, when the government decided that housewives know how to properly cook their chicken, so it was unnecessary to ban Salmonella from raw chicken products (in contrast, E. coli O157:H7 is prohibited in raw ground beef).

So what can you do?

  • Keep cold food cold (refrigeration temperature = 40F) and hot food hot (above 140F)
  • Don’t wash your chicken in the sink. It’s not necessary and will spread bacteria into the sink and increase your risk of cross-contaminating fruits or greens you might wash in it later
  • Do use separate cutting boards for poultry and other foods. Do wipe them down with bleach/antibacterial wipes afterwards
  • Don’t use a wood cutting board for chicken. They’re pretty much impossible to sterilize because they can absorb chicken juices
  • Do use a food thermometer to cook chicken to 165F.

Additional resources from the USDA and CDC on good food safety habits are located here.



  1. Zhao S, White DG, Friedman SL, Glenn A, Blickenstaff K, Ayers SL, Abbott JW, Hall-Robinson E, McDermott PF. 2008. Antimicrobial resistance in Salmonella enterica serovar Heidelberg isolates from retail meats, including poultry, from 2002 to 2006. Appl Environ Microbiol 74:6656-62.
  2. Jackson BR, Griffin PM, Cole D, Walsh KA, Chai SJ. 2013. Outbreak-associated Salmonella enterica serotypes and food Commodities, United States, 1998-2008. Emerg Infect Dis 19:1239-44.
  3. Den Bakker HC, Switt AIM, Cummings CA, Hoelzer K, Degoricija L, Rodriguez-Rivera LD, Wright EM, Fang R, Davis M, Root T, Schoonmaker-Bopp D, Musser KA, Villamil E, Waechter HN, Kornstein L, Furtado MR, Wiedmann M. 2011. A whole genome SNP based approach to trace and identify outbreaks linked to a common Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serovar Montevideo pulsed field gel electrophoresis type. Appl Environ Microbiol 77:8648-8655.
  4. CDC. 2009. Multistate outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium infections linked to peanut Butter, 2008-2009 (final update). Accessed
  5. Nagel GM, Bauermeister LJ, Bratcher CL, Singh M, McKee SR. 2013. Salmonella and Campylobacter reduction and quality characteristics of poultry carcasses treated with various antimicrobials in a post-chill immersion tank. Int J Food Microbiol 165:281-6.
  6. Anonymous. 2016. New performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter in not-ready-to-eat comminuted chicken and turkey products and raw chicken parts and changes to related agency verification procedures: response to comments and announcement of implementation schedule. Docket No. FSIS-2014-0023:7285-7300.
  7. Bauermeister LJ, Bowers JW, Townsend JC, McKee SR. 2008. The microbial and quality properties of poultry carcasses treated with peracetic acid as an antimicrobial treatment. Poult Sci 87:2390-8.
  8. Rothrock MJ, Jr., Ingram KD, Gamble J, Guard J, Cicconi-Hogan KM, Hinton A, Jr., Hiett KL. 2015. The characterization of Salmonella enterica serotypes isolated from the scalder tank water of a commercial poultry processing plant: Recovery of a multidrug-resistant Heidelberg strain. Poult Sci 94:467-72.
  1. Abbot JM, Byrd-Bredbenner C, Schaffner D, Bruhn CM, Blalock L. 2009. Comparison of food safety cognitions and self-reported food-handling behaviors with observed food safety behaviors of young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr 63:572-9.
  2. FDA. 2010. 2010 food safety survey. FDA,
  3. FDA. 2016. 2016 FDA food safety survey. FDA,


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