photo from Paul Child/PBS


The other day, NPR came out with a story entitled Julia Child Was Wrong: Don’t Wash Your Raw Chicken, Folks.

I have to say that the story irritated the hell out of me. Not because it maligned Julia Child – who knew a bit about cooking – but because of the whole tone of the article. The basic premise of the story was if you wash your chicken, you’re going to contaminate yourself and the surrounding area – up to three feet away, some studies suggest – and it then states that salmonella and Campylobacter together are estimated to cause nearly 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. each year. They don’t say how many of these cases are actually caused by someone rinsing their chicken, however.  It’s just a big number to make you think what they have to say is important.

After the Big Number, they offer a cute little video cartoon that shows chicken-slime-infested water splashing all over the kitchen. I wish I had that much water pressure in my house.

So since they threw out the almost 1.9 million number, let’s look at some other numbers…

8 BILLION chickens are sold in the US each year. If every one of those nearly 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness were caused by washing your chicken, it would be a fairly insignificant 0.02375%. Since they are not, the number drops even more.

Focus-group surveys, conducted by New Mexico State University as part of a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, suggest as many as 90 percent of people rinse their raw birds.

Ninety Percent.

That’s a lot of chicken being rinsed and not a lot of illness. It’s right up there with spraying fecal matter all over your toothbrush when you flush the toilet.

Because there may be some truth in something doesn’t automatically make it an issue or a calamity.

My Main Gripe

My main gripe with the article wasn’t that they were against rinsing chickens – something that 90% of people do – but that they didn’t offer a better way to do it; that they didn’t explain the problem is actually rinsing a chicken under a torrent of water, splashing water and potential contamination all over hell and creation – and not the act of rinsing, itself.

Supermarket chicken – where most of us buy it – is sealed in plastic that has to be cut away or otherwise opened, somehow. Since I keep a clean sink, the sink is the best place for me to open that package. I can contain the mess in a place with a drain.  Chicken goes from package to pan or dish to marinate or season and cook. I’m not dragging dripping chicken all over the kitchen – it is always contained by sink, plate, pan, or board. A pretty simple concept.

The only chickens I ever rinse are whole birds. I usually rinse them not because of my fear of germs and bacteria, but because I want to get rid of whatever package juices that have accumulated. I want to start with as fresh a bird as possible. I don’t have the luxury of having a butcher nearby where I can buy my chickens fresh – and dry – the day I want to cook one.

I rinse under slow-running water, place the bird on a wood cutting board, and dry inside and out with paper towels. And then I wash the cutting board and the sink.

Yes, I use wood cutting boards. And we have a butcher block island in the kitchen.

People are scared enough of food and cooking without giving them yet another reason to open a box instead of cooking something relatively healthy. If the goal is to cut down on foodborne illness, education is what is needed, not asinine video graphics and scare tactics.

It’s really all about keeping things clean and using a bit of common sense.

And not being afraid.