Nearly 48 million people are sickened nationwide every year by food contaminated with harmful germs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates.
While most people know that handling animal products carefully is necessary to prevent illness, washing meat and poultry is not recommended. However, washing fruits and vegetables is recommended and can help consumers avoid sickness.
It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling meat and poultry, but rinsing or washing things such as raw chicken is a bad idea because it raises the risk of spreading dangerous bacteria found on raw poultry to your kitchen surfaces, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Despite iconic chef Julia Child once recommending washing raw chicken, research shows the most effective way to kill any bacteria on meat and poultry is cooking it to the proper internal temperature (typically 135 to 160, depending on the meat). You can look up the recommended internal temperature, depending on what you’re cooking or grilling, at FoodSafety.gov.
Washing produce is always a good idea, but it won’t provide 100 percent protection from bacteria that cause foodborne illness unless you cook it thoroughly. Because it is eaten raw, lettuce is often a source of E. coli outbreaks such as the one earlier this year that sickened hundreds in dozens of states and resulted in five deaths.
Produce can be contaminated in several ways, including by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water, and poor hygiene by workers. Also, after being harvested, produce passes through many hands by the time it reaches store shelves, increasing the risk of contamination.
The FDA has the following recommendations for rinsing fruits and vegetables:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
- Rinse produce before you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
- Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
- Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
- Remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.
Consumers should store perishable produce in the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees, according to the FDA.