We'll put it this way: if you used to rinse, don't repeat.  

By Betty Gold
Updated December 02, 2019

Many home cooks are in the habit of rinsing their chicken before they cook it. The rationale makes sense, really: raw chicken is damp and drippy when you remove it from its packaging. Giving it a quick bath under the faucet seems like it should wash away bits of potentially unpleasant gunk and germs. Even Julia Child was famous for recommending we rinse our poultry before roasting.

Unfortunately, washing your raw chicken is for the birds (sorry!). It's a tremendous mistake in the food safety department. When you run water over raw poultry, you're essentially just sloshing potentially dangerous bacteria over your sink—and the entire vicinity. Picture this: as water from your faucet hits the bird, it splatters and spreads bits of bacteria that are often blind to the naked eye over your countertops, appliances, and other surfaces in the area surrounding your sink. Makes sense, right?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chicken is actually the number one food that causes food poisoning. This is, in part, due to production facilities failing to meet quality standards, but it's mostly related to unsafe handling and preparation practices done by consumers at home.

We have more control over our ability to avoid food poisoning than we give ourselves credit for. The smartest way to stay safe? Arm yourself with the proper food safety knowledge and practices in the kitchen.

To begin, rather than washing your bird, the best way to make sure you've eliminated any potentially dangerous bacteria (like Campylobacter or Salmonella, which are most closely associated with raw poultry) is to enlist a food thermometer and cook your chicken to an internal temperature of at least 165°F. At this point, the meat should be entirely opaque without any pink; juices will run clear.

Chicken companies do go through meticulous cleaning processes to ensure your meat is as germ-free as possible before it’s shipped to grocery stores, says Richard Lobb, a spokesperson for the National Chicken Council. And, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, any bacteria that may be lingering there will be killed off in the oven anyway—as long as you make sure the chicken’s internal temperature reaches 165°F.

If you want to get rid of the juices on the meat, pat it with a paper towel instead of rinsing it. That way, you avoid the risk of contaminating the sink and anything else that the bacteria-soaked water and juices touch. Simply dry the poultry with a paper towel right in its original packaging. Bonus: drying the meat in the container saves you from having to clean the cutting board. It also prevents the seasoning from falling off and helps the chicken brown better.

Lastly, always remember to wash your hands and anything that the raw meat or its juices touch to avoid cross-contamination. For must-know rules to follow when prepping and cooking chicken safely, check out this helpful guide.