Your food-handling habits may be putting you at risk

WASHINGTON — Pop Quiz: Do you wash chicken before cooking it? If your answer is yes, you may be unknowingly spreading bacteria throughout your kitchen.

Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, says while many home cooks have done this for years, government safety experts say washing raw chicken is a mistake.

“If there is salmonella or other bacteria on that chicken, when we wash it, we increase the likelihood of spreading that bacteria elsewhere in the kitchen,” Squires said.

“You might get it on your hands, then you touch the faucet, and the door handle to the refrigerator, the counter,” she added. And then suddenly, you have the potential to have bacteria everywhere.”

Experts say no amount of water and washing is going to kill the bacteria on raw poultry which can sometime cause severe cases of food-borne illness.

Cooking it thoroughly at the proper temperature is the only way to kill the bacteria. Also, when washing, small particles of bacteria can spray elsewhere in the kitchen and that increases the possibility of cross-contamination to other foods.

Pop Quiz No. 2: Do you wash your fruit before eating it? You may be saying yes to washing an apple, pear or peach. But what about a banana or cantaloupe or watermelon?

If you’re not washing all of those, Squires said you may be missing an opportunity to protect yourself.

“All of this fruit, as wonderful as it is, can have bacteria or other things we don’t want on its exterior,” Squires explained.

“When we cut it open or when we peel it, we’ve now gotten it on our hands or we have now exposed the flesh of the fruit to the bacteria and we can get sick. We need to wash it.”

Squires added that the same applies to vegetables. Wash them thoroughly.

If it’s a leafy vegetable such as cabbage, Squires suggested pulling away the outer leaves and discarding them and then running water through the inner leaves. You can drain it by turning it upside down.

Squires said the one exception is produce such as lettuce or spinach in the grocery store that is labeled “triple washed.”

She said those items are OK to use “as-is” without additional washing.

And keeping certain foods separated once we get them home is a good idea as well. Squires recommends keeping meat and poultry away from fresh produce.

The government provides more information on food safety steps at

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