Wait, Should You Wash Your Meat?

The great debate continues.

A raw chicken in the bathtub

Dotdash Meredith / Michela Buttignol

In an iconic moment during Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Lisa Vanderpump instructs Adrienne Malouf to wash a whole, raw chicken. Adrienne did just that, pumping that sinkside dishwashing liquid on the fowl before scrubbing with purpose. The internet instantly broke in disbelief. I know my mouth was agape.

So, to wash proteins or not to wash proteins. This is the question. To everyone who is already up in arms, calm the hell down. We are only two paragraphs into this piece.

The Argument Against Washing Your Meat Before Cooking

Before we get into the “meat” of this article, let’s identify the argument of why one should not wash meat and poultry before using. According to public health agencies, we should not be washing chicken for three reasons:

  • The chicken is washed during processing. 
  • Washing raw chicken increases the risk of spreading bacteria in the kitchen that can cause foodborne illness. 
  • The only way of killing bacteria is to cook it.  

The Argument For Washing Your Meat Before Cooking

Now that the public agencies have spoken, let’s address the millions of people that do wash their meat and poultry before cooking. I am one of them. Like many others who grew up watching a parent or relative cook while imparting their knowledge, washing meat before you cook it is an unwritten rule passed down from generation to generation. As a result, it most likely began from the times when we were catching and slaughtering our own animals and when the processing was not sanitary.

I have noticed “cleaning” proteins embodies different techniques. My Caribbean friend, for example, uses acid—citrus or vinegar—and salt to remove impurities from all land proteins, scrubbing and letting it sit for an extended period of time before rinsing, drying, and seasoning. I have seen some chefs boil their meats and pour off the water before seasoning and preceding with their preparation. Then there is brining, which is a perfect way to clean, tenderize, and prepare the protein for cooking.

So why do I clean my proteins? Because, like those I mentioned above, that’s what my mother did and her mother did and so on and so on. Also, I don’t care how organic, grassfed, cage-free it is, it just makes me feel better and the process of rinsing and patting dry is ingrained in me. No one has gotten sick in my years as a professional chef…knock on wood. 

What I WILL now do, since writing this piece, is make sure I do a serious antibacterial wipe down of all surfaces before moving on to any other dish to prevent any cross contamination. This is called growth and I way am into it.