How to clean a chicken?! Photo by Alton Brown.

“We all need to calm the fuck down!”/Quote, illustrations, and photo by Alton Brown

The NPR blog Salt started a small #chickenshitstorm Monday when Maria Godoy wrote about a Drexel University study and campaign (a campaign!) to end the dangerous practice of washing chicken in your sink at home. The story was picked up by Slate editor L.V. Anderson and spread from there. Reaching many, including television star and renowned post-it artist, Alton Brown, whose 5-post-it editorial sums up the feelings of many cooks and chefs. When I wrote to him asking to use the image here, he added a header to the email: “We all need to calm the fuck down!”

I love that about Alton.

He’s right. And he’s right to shout. This shit is getting out of hand. Why are so many people so fucking afraid of their food? Wash your chicken or don’t wash it. I don’t care. If you’re going to have sex during the roasting I would ask you to wash your hands. Other than that, your super hot oven will kill any bugs thriving on the bird (but bits of liver, glands, and bone fragments will remain; and who knows if the processor, Julia-like, dropped the bird on the processing floor and called the five-second rule—a little grit never hurt anyone, but I don’t want to eat it).

Do I wash my chicken before roasting? Usually, unless I’m in a rush. If there are fragments and stuff and viscera that I prefer not to put in my roasting pan, of course I rinse it off. I dry it. I truss it. I salt it. Then I put it in a really hot oven. Then I hope to get lucky. But I usually don’t (school night, kids).

I don’t put on an orange suit and cover the kitchen in antibacterial foam. And I don’t blow up my house, just to be sure.

What Alton is saying, and I’ll put it in my words this time, what a lot of us are saying is, “Stop being such a pussy about bacteria.” We all know they can be harmful, sometimes deadly. But I’d really like to know what the odds are for healthy people to get even a tummy ache eating food that hasn’t been processed in a plant that they cook themselves. If you’re too busy to wash your own lettuce and buy the “pre-washed” packaged stuff, that’s probably more of a risk than rinsing a chicken in your sink.

A while back the venerable Harold McGee took me to task in the NYTimes for leaving stock out on a stove “all week” because of the possibility of heat-resistant toxins growing in it. The article implied, wrongly, that I suggested it was fine to leave stock out on the stove top all week (this is the post he refers to). I don’t. (In the winter, I do do this, though I bring it daily to a simmer to kill any bacteria; summer weather is too hot and the stock sours quickly.) Just to see what would happen, I tried leaving stock out on the stovetop without simmering it, as the article had implied was my recommendation. After a day it smelled off. After two days, so bad I’d never have eaten it. After three, the smell actually made me gag. I would respond that there is indeed no danger in leaving stock on the stove top without simmering it for three days, because no one would be able to get near it, let alone eat it.

I don’t think McGee or Jennifer Quinlan, of Drexler University, are wrong. But they throw gasoline on the fire of our fears without putting the facts in context. Can you get food poisoning? Of course you can. What they don’t say is how likely you are. And that’s because there are too many variables. And every possibility, remote or likely, is a 100% possibility to a scientist.

Am I afraid of my chicken? No. Are you afraid of my chicken? Not this one, I hope. From Tea Hill Farms, washed, dried, and trussed, on the day the aforementioned articles appeared.

At rest.

A rinsed chicken should be properly salted/photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Please, buy good food, cook it yourself, use whatever intelligence happens to be available in that tiny head of yours. Then open a bottle of wine and eat dinner with your friends and family.

God, this shit pisses me off.

Salting the chicken.

Salting means all of the bird, and plenty of it. “Let it rain,” says Thomas Keller, on salting.

In the pan

I roast the bird in a cast iron pan at 450˚F for an hour.

BEAUTIFUL!
Let the bird FINISH COOKING for AT LEAST 15 minutes out of the oven. (It will stay hot for 45 minutes.)

 

If you liked this post, take a look at these links:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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116 Wonderful responses to “Bacteria! RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

  • Christa

    Love, love, love!! People are way too uptight about food cleanliness. My mother-in-law constantly questions my cooking. If her chicken is moist and juicy, she asks me if it’s really done, to which I always reply, “I haven’t killed anyone yet!” We have gone overboard on the anti-bacterial bandwagon, and this has led to many more problems than ingesting a bit of bacteria. Call me crazy, but I just grab the chicken out of the package and throw it into the pan. I’ll wash my hands, with my non-anti-bacterial soap, just because they are slimy.

    Love you and Alton because you are honest about this, and you’re not afraid to use foul language to get your point across. Fuck yeah!

  • Laura H.

    I wash chicken before cooking because I a) raise most of the chicken I eat and b) know how commercial poultry houses are kept, and for the chicken I buy in stores, (especially roasters and fryers) I know they’ve been walking and lying in their own poop, it’s just how those massive poultry houses are.

    I wash to remove traces of feces, not because I am hyper about bacteria per se (I live on a farm, we get plenty of bacterial exposure here.) I worry more about going in a hospital than I do about bacteria on a chicken. I just don’t want to eat baked poop, even if it is sterile.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    I remove the kidneys, any remaining pin feathers, singe (many birds aren’t properly singed), general clean-up and then I wash (rinse, really).
    Always have, always will.

    • A.S.

      Well, something other than being a game show host. Too much talent to be a foodie Richard Dawson.

      • Joe

        I agree wholeheartedly!!! I remember when cooking channels used to teach cooking and cooking techniques!

  • Perry Perkins

    Great post, I couldn’t agree more. People are so disconnected from their food that they’ll believe anything, especially if it’s seasoned liberally with hysteria.

    BTW…let me be one of the thousands who point this out… Julia never dropped a chicken (or turkey, or lamb) on the show. She once flipped a potato dish, and part of it missed the pan and fell on the stove. She scooped it back up, and commented (the now infamous line) “If you’re alone in the kitchen, who’s to know?”

    http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/juliachild.asp

    Reading “Making of a Chef” right now…love it!

    -Perry
    hautemealz.com

    • Melissa

      This is going to make me nuts. I watched all the old Julia Child shows on dvd several years ago. I remember the potato pancake incident – it fell half in her pan and half on the stove. She said something like, “There now, you see? I didn’t have the courage of my convictions.”

      And I could swear I remember her dropping a chicken while she was trussing it. She said something about, that’s why you always keep the kitchen door closed. She picked it up and washed it off (it was still raw) and went back to preparing it for the oven. I swear I saw this. Now I’m going to have to go back and re-watch all those shows!

  • Dreux Potvin

    Thank you, all we have to do is buy our meat from a reputable source, all that bacterial danger I believe comes from buying chickens grown in factory farms. If you pack enough living beings into too small a space disease will prevail. That being said, I would eat my chicken without washing EVER!

  • Jessica

    You have surpassed “spatchcock”….and I can’t even use a word for it without offending probably everyone…. yes, scroll up, you know what picture I am talking about… hehehehehehe

  • Darcie

    Indeed. It’s sad, pathetic even, that we have become afraid of our food. There’s an entire generation that doesn’t know the joy of licking the beaters and fighting with siblings over the rubber spatula.

    I have had food poisoning a few times (and not just the Hershey’s squirts, either; one instance required hospitalization). But it was never from my own kitchen. I eat cookie dough and cake batter and drink cocktails with raw egg. I don’t use antibacterial soap or wipes. I eat bloody red meat. But I do take care when choosing the food I am going to eat, when handling the food, and when cleaning up. It isn’t fucking rocket science.

  • Jessica

    and germs wouldn’t fucking splash everywhere if people didn’t throw the water on in high impact mode! Who the fuck does that???? Use some common fucking sense!!! If you put a chicken in the sink and put the water on high and stand there you deserve to have chicken germs all over everything!!!

  • cleek

    When I read this “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” story, I immediately thought “If the problem with washing a chicken in the sink is that the splashing water gives bacteria from the chicken a chance to hitch rides on tiny droplets of water, doesn’t that mean I also shouldn’t wash my hands in the sink after handling the chicken? It’s the same bacteria and the same water pressure and the same sink! A good beam of sunlight is all it takes to prove that washing your hands makes the same fine mist.”

    And at that point, I decided the people who wrote that story were morons.

    • Drexler

      Ever think that maybe you should wash your dirty hands in… Hmmmmm… The bathroom? That might help prevent the spread of harmful bacteria to your food and/or clean dishes you have in the dish rack next to the sink.

  • Mary Alice Kropp

    Thank you! I know so many people who are true germophobes. And they are the ones who are always sick. Me? I take reasonable precautions, wash my hands a lot, and never get the flu shot. I haven’t been sick with more than a cold but once or twice in the last 5 or 6 years.

  • Kanani

    Crazy. I have visions of this person wearing rubber gloves, a body suit, and goggles while cooking, and viewing her time in the kitchen as something dangerous and undesirable.
    I’ve been washing chickens in the sink since I was a kid. And also scrubbing the sink after. It might have taken my test scores down a few notches in high school, but who’s to know? All my friends were doing the same.

  • Jules

    I am not a chicken-washer. The viscera that gets left behind “adds flavor”–that’s my line, anyway :-D But also, we have a ridiculously tiny kitchen, and covering it with salmonella drippings…no.

  • Natalie

    This is just getting ridiculous. People have been washing and eating chicken for centuries before these morons were born.

    • Chris R

      People have also been dying from easily preventable diseases and infections for centuries before these people were born. What exactly is your point?

      Currently around 128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year from foodborne illness. 3,000 of them die. Should we just assume that these were the weak ones and ignore it?

      • ruhlman

        I’d love to have a representative sampling of actual cases and how they happened, outside the mass outbreaks of salmonella (which kills 450 a year) and ecoli. do you know of any?

        • Chris R

          You can find all of that information in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and the associated analysis thereof. The CDC and the USDA both have a lot of information on food borne illnesses, sources, and so forth. The problem is that most cases of food poisoning are very hard to pin down because people don’t know anything about food safety (like most still believe that mayo in potato salad is what can make you sick or that rice or pasta left in the danger zone for long periods of time is just dandy). So tracing illnesses back can be difficult. However, I should point out that the *vast* majority of food poisoning happens in the home and not restaurants. Why? Because people almost don’t know a damn thing about cross contamination, proper food handling techniques, or even how to properly clean their surfaces.

          • Kerry L

            Not that I’m anything like a good statistical sample, but I’ve had food poisoning 3 times in my life – once from fresh cherries (or not so fresh, I suppose!), & twice from restaurant food. And I missed out on getting it once from a catered meal at work (I skipped the lunch meeting, and then the next morning all of R&D was a wasteland!). So, I’m more likely to be suspect of restaurant food than food at home that I have selected carefully and handled & washed carefully. We also don’t freak out about germs at my house either, so we’ve probably all been inoculated against the common ones. I agree, people need to chill out!

  • Warner

    I’m 65. I live by the simple principle that any bacteria that bites me dies a horrible death.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    If simply washing a chicken is so risky, then cutting up a bird and getting “stuff” on your hands, the counter, the cutting board, the sink, the poultry shears, your knife and washing it all must surely lead to a death sentence!!!!!

  • eve

    When I’m poaching and presenting a whole chicken (with head and feet) it needs to be prettied up, so it gets a good scrubbing with kosher salt.

  • Barb

    Pastured chicken, like what I buy, is way lower in salmonella than store bought. If we have to treat chicken as toxic it’s because of the horrendous conditions under which it’s produced. I don’t know why we accept this.

  • Chris R

    The problem lies in your assumption that everyone coking is going to be a healthy individual – as you state here “But I’d really like to know what the odds are for healthy people to get even a tummy ache eating food that hasn’t been processed in a plant that they cook themselves.” People who are not healthy, people who have compromised immune systems, people with under developed immune systems (like children) are also known to cook and eat food. Perhaps, just maybe, these sort of precautions when dealing with *known* sources of harmful bacteria are justified when keeping in mind that the world is slightly larger than the bubble you live in.

    I think a lot of people (perhaps yourself included) don’t understand how far aerosolized bacteria can spread. A higher pressure stream of water (say from the sprayer on most modern faucets) can create a fine mist of bacteria that leap off of the surface of the contaminated food stuff. This mist can spread over twenty feet from the sink depositing the bacteria all over the kitchen. Salmonella in particular being incredibly hardy able to survive for days on a dry surface. Now, maybe you with your healthy immune system will simply laugh at these pathogens. Not everyone in this world is that lucky.

    Also, I have to ask – have you ever worked in a restaurant and been required to attend the local CHD food safety classes? Can I ask what were the basic you were taught there about proper handling techniques for poultry? I’m just wondering where you got your blase attitude regarding handling raw poultry.

    • Marc B

      If I read right, it was a little place in New York called the Culinary Institute of America.

      • Chris R

        I had no idea they taught classes in epidemiology there. Basically, what he is saying is that the best scientific evidence we have on hand is bullshit because it doesn’t conform to his pre-existing ideas.

        Also, I should point out that the CIA isn’t a restaurant and I have no idea if they require their students to take the CHD food safety classes.

        • ruhlman

          i’m not saying that at all. They’re not wrong. Bacteria can be deadly. But know what and where the risks lie. It’s not in washing chicken.

          • Chris R

            And I happen to think you are mistaken in that fear. The USDA believes you are mistaken as well. From a USDA food safety publication

            “Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before
            cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat
            and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils,
            and surfaces. We call this cross-contamination.
            Some consumers think they are removing bacteria and
            making their meat or poultry safe. However, some of
            the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not
            remove them no matter how many times you washed.
            But there are other types of bacteria that can be easily
            washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen.
            Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead
            to foodborne illness. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling,
            and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria,
            so washing food is not necessary.”

            Look, it was a nice rant but entirely misguided and unsupported by the facts, best practices, and best science. You’ve really done a disservice to your readers because the idea of *not* washing chicken in order to reduce the spread of bacteria seemed like overkill to you. You felt this advice is an overreaction. But ask yourself, why do people wash the chicken in the first place? What purpose does it serve? The majority of people purchasing chicken get one that is cleaned and ready to go. People are washing it because they *think* it reduces the bacteria and ‘dirtiness’ of it. Isn’t that the overreaction? Doesn’t it just make basic sense to reduce the risks of cross contamination?

            That’s why I asked if you ever worked in a restaurant. In a well run kitchen cross contamination is taken 100% seriously. It’s also why food poisoning from restaurants is *far* less common than getting it from something you make at home.

      • Chris R

        Where did he say that people at higher risk should be aware of this sort of thing? Look, he presented a rant. Basically a pointless rant that said “Screw science I know what reality is really all about!” He provided *nothing* in the way of justification for his position past the idea that “Dude, were all healthy here right? Anyway, we’ve been doing it like this for ages and we’re all just *fine*, am i right?” Neither of which is a valid or cogent response to a well conducted study.

    • ruhlman

      I took health and sanitation at the CIA. And my attitude is not blase, I don’t go around licking my cutting board or eating store ground beef as tartare. My attitude is realistic and commonsensical based on a rudimentary understanding of how bacteria behave, but mainly it’s based on being alive for 50 years and cooking for 40 of them.

      • Chris R

        Michael, as I already stated, it appears from this rant that your approach to the risks of cross contamination seem quite blase. Look at a well run commercial kitchen. You’ll find, as you know, that it is far far cleaner than anything you might run into at home. Why? Because these people are *paranoid* about bacteria. They take issues like this very seriously. In part it’s because it makes financial sense. A case of fatal food poisoning at The French Laundry would significantly impact the bottom line and reputation. Heck, look at what happened to Chi Chis (and it wasn’t even their fault). Look, I know most home cooks do not have the time or energy to really pay attention to strict cleanliness standards when they are cooking. Cross contamination is a way of life for the home chef. However, rants like this don’t help. It basically says “Hey, sure those egghead scientists and food safety experts are saying this is bad but what do they know? I have years of experience of not dropping dead so don’t listen to their basic and *time saving* advice.”

        C’mon man, think about what you are saying.

      • Anne Alexander

        Michael, Please forgive what might sound like a rude question, that is not my intent. I do get confused with the references to your time at the CIA. I know that you attended some classes as a writer, but I wasn’t aware that you had taken any of the “non-cooking” classes in their entirety. So when you say you “took health and sanitation”, did you take the full health and sanitation course as a full time student would have, and pass? do you have any formal education in sanitation?

  • Robin

    THANK YOU! I shudder every time I see another “antibacterial” product – chlorine based counter wipes, chemical sprays, most ironically used by people purchasing organic food. There is a world of difference between contaminated food (spoiled, improperly stored, badly processed and full of bad things like salmonella) and the normal bacterial load present on surfaces, food, fingers – you know, anything not sterile. That’s what we have immune systems for. Part of the way that immune system stays health and reactive is being exposed to, wait for it…. germs!

    Proper food handling is important (see my comment about contaminated food above), and people with compromised immune systems (chemo patients, extremely young or the elderly to name a few) need to take greater care, but that doesn’t describe most people.

    No wonder we’ve created a generation afraid to cook. It breaks my heart.

  • John Wallace

    Finally a counterargument from a real authority to this ongoing pathogen paranoia. One popular BBQ site advocates NO cold smoking and cites notes from the FDA. Of course there is risk with cold smoking and that is why we cure prior to smoking and watch temps. Chicken can be nasty stuff, so bleach and sanitize work areas and utensils before and after. Even a modicum of precaution puts us above many restaurants in sanitation. If we need to prepare anything below FDA pasteurization levels for hitting the temp for 5 seconds, then sous vide is the answer. If we can find products from locally grown animals, so much the better. Thanks again.

    • Chris R

      How the *hell* is Rhulman an authority on the epidemiology of food borne illness? Did he get a PhD when no one was looking?

      • ruhlman

        Who are you? Identify yourself and rebut away! I just hope you’re reading me right. My argument is against hysteria, not bacteria.

        • Chris R

          Sure, my name is Chris Rapier. I’m a research scientist at CMU. I don’t have a PhD in epidemiology but I’ve done work in a number of fields in support of my major area of study (high performance networks) including infectious diseases, statistical analysis, and genomics. I also have a side company that writes medical software for the management of cardiovascular disease. My GF runs two reasonable popular restaurants here. Through her I was deeply school in the teachings of the ACHD food safety course because of how aghast she was at how I cooked at home.

          While I picked up that your rant was against hysteria the problem is that the target of your rant is actually a reasonable precaution that is well supported by science. People *are* overly concerned about germs. The use of antibacterial products is often idiotic to the extreme. However, all these people are saying is “Hey, when you wash your chicken you splatter bacteria all over the place. Maybe you shouldn’t do that.” How does that come across as overwrought germophobia?

      • Joe

        How the hell are you an authority? What are your qualifications? Are you a PhD in epidemiology? For all I know you’re a 18 year old with a great vocabulary? If anything Ruhlman’s qualifications are readily apparent.

        I took the whole “rant” as a call for us to use common sense and rational thinking. Beyond the rant each individual will have to take whatever precaution is indicated for their personal health situation? Fuck me why don’t we have a level 4 biohazard room in our kitchen for people that might get sick!

  • Bob

    It’s not like I’m lobbing Rocky-the-Chicken across a spacious, movie-set kitchen for a splashdown in a sink brimming with water.

  • Jason W. Hamner

    These are the same people who act like you are playing Russian Roulette if you cook your chicken breast to less than 165 degrees F, when even a cursory understanding of science says it’s a lot more complicated than that.

    However, in their defense, people still die in this country from things like salmonella… the epidemiologists who make these rules have the view that scaring people out of their minds about germs might save a few lives.

  • Jeffrey Johns

    Are you talking about that idiot Meathead? He loves to debunk everything almost to a fault. Biggest waste of time.

  • Abigail Blake

    I’ve never washed chicken and never understand why anyone would. The exception is when I’m cooking Caribbean dishes and then the chicken gets a lime juice bath, as is traditional. Interesting side note about Julia – I’m reading a book of her correspondence with Avis deVoto now and in one letter she mentions cooking a turkey and noted that she needed to rinse it first because it was an American frozen bird and had a slight “off” odor. This would seem to suggest that she didn’t start rinsing her poultry until she started working with American birds.

  • Matt

    while we are on the subject…it would be nice if those on tv, writing books, blogs, celebrity chefs, etc. would finally and cohesively rail against the absurdly high temperatures that the USDA tells us to cook our food to (oh, the bacteria!!!). there are a few exceptions and brave souls that risk the wrath of the government. let’s be honest, that delicious food you just ate in your favorite restaurant was not cooked to 165 for chicken. if it were…you’d have been disappointed.

  • Barbara Fisher

    Hey, Chris R–no, Ruhlman isn’t an epidemiologist. That doesn’t mean that he’s ignorant of food safety. At the CIA, as in every other culinary school, food safety is a required course, and believe me, what you learn in those classes is enough to put you off ever eating anywhere but at home for the rest of your life if you are a fearful sort. I know, because I went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales University during the same time period that Mr. Ruhlman went to the CIA. So, knock it off.

    He never says that people with compromised immune systems should only follow his methods of cleaning and cooking chicken, just as the original blog post on Salt never says that really the only people who should worry about washing their chickens in their sinks are people with compromised immune systems. Get it? You are universalizing from the worst case scenario, which I think is silly. If you are healthy, and you get your chicken from somewhere other than a cesspool, then wash it or don’t, but cook it well and eat it and be happy.

    That’s all.

    And if you don’t like Mr. Ruhlman’s advice about handling chicken, don’t use it, that’s fine, but don’t cast aspersions on his intelligence because he isn’t an epidemiologist. Because you don’t need to be an epidemiologist in order to know how to handle food.

  • Elise

    My mother always encouraged us to play in the dirt when we were kids, to help build a healthy immune system. (Here’s a NYT article that talks about the same thing: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html). I’m beginning to think that our obsession with overly sanitizing our daily lives is hurting us. I have no problem with washing a chicken, or not washing it. Is anyone actually getting sick from washing their chicken before cooking it? if not, then what’s the problem? So what if bad molecules end up in the air? Here’s another idea to direct you to: hormesis, the idea that low doses of toxins are good for you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormesis

    What if those nasty salmonella chicken molecules that get sprayed up in the air when you wash a chicken were helping to make you stronger?

  • Kyle

    I don’t follow this. It’s as though you didn’t read the original article. The point of the article was that you DON’T need to wash your meat (despite what many cookbooks recommend) because properly cooking it will kill any bacteria. Why mention that here as though they didn’t mention it there?

    Secondly, the main point of the study was that by washing your meat you are likely spreading the bacteria you’re attempting to remove. Bacteria isn’t relegated to the sink. Nor is it quarantined to some special area. It is a strange straw man to then act as though they’re saying “if you wash your meat, you’re going to die!” Calm the fuck down, indeed. The study was stating that, contrary to what many cooks recommend, one should not wash their meat as it increases the spread of bacteria.

    Is this action of not doing something in some way taxing? Don’t do this thing, you don’t need to and even if you do you’re likely spreading bacteria. How easy.

    • ruhlman

      I thought it was obvious that cooking chicken killed surface bacteria. that’s news to you? my argument is against the hysteria and fear mongering.

      • Kyle

        I’m sorry, could you show me where I conveyed the notion that cooking food properly was some newfound scientific theory?

        If your argument is against hysteria and fear-mongering, I have to ask: What hysteria? What fear mongering? There are cookbooks that state to wash your meat; this is countering the notion. There is no risk in not washing it and, in fact, if there is any risk it’s that you might contaminate your kitchen while washing it. Perfectly reasonable. You may as well have taken up a campaign against washing your hands back in the day and added “I’m against fear mongering.”

  • DiggingDogFarm

    I watched their ‘campaign’ videos, in one video the grandmother clearly cross-contaminates the faucet handle! Not one word warning of that danger! GASP!!!!

  • Angelo

    What if you have sex WITH the chicken carcass before you roast it. Then maybe rinsing/washing is in order? :)

    • Wilford Brimley

      Just fill that cavity with a nice warm batch of oatmeal…about body temperature. And leave the legs on. You’ll see what I mean.

  • Dawn | KitchenTravels

    A campaign to end the “dangerous” practice of washing chicken… come on, people. Maybe the folks at Drexel can gather some of their scientist friends and start a campaign to end the dangerous practice of using pesticides and GMOs. Now that’s a campaign I could get behind.

  • Vivien

    While you are on a rant about washing chickens and bacteria please can we find away to get the egg industry to stop power washing eggs and clean up their factory farm practices.
    In N.A., we are required to refrigerate eggs because of the factory farming practices. The USDA requires that a US egg be power-washed (because many factory farm chickens carry salmonella) and this washing removes the natural layer of protection that an egg has when it is laid. The natural layer of protection prevents contamination through the tiny pours of the egg.
    In Europe, no one refrigerates their eggs. They are naturally protected by their own coating and sold in stores unrefrigerated.
    Cheers
    Vivien

  • Paul

    “And every possibility, remote or likely, is a 100% possibility to a scientist.”

    Michael, I hope you know this is B.S.. Scientists are in the business of determining probabilities, not certainties. McGee isn’t a scientist, but he’s a lot smarter than this as well. He perhaps misunderstood what you wrote. And if he did, others might as well.

    I actually think that as a culture we underestimate the likelihood of foodborn illness. This is because we have anecdotal ideas of what “food poisoning” is like. Few people realize how often their routine illnesses actually originated with food, or were transfered by it.

    Not a huge deal most of the time. I’m pretty casual when cooking for myself. But if you’re cooking for others, and you don’t know who’s immune-suppressed (pregnant, HIV-positive, or suffering from myriad other chronic conditions) food safety is a big deal. And from what I see in most home kitchens, people don’t have a clue about it, even if they are fastidious about exorcising plastics and everything non-local.

    I’d suggest a path somewhere between fashionable, blog-fueled fear-of-everything, and your semi-informed dismissal.

  • Dean

    If I believed that tattooing was in any way acceptable, I would have one with this quote from today’s post “Please, buy good food, cook it yourself, use whatever intelligence happens to be available in that tiny head of yours. Then open a bottle of wine and eat dinner with your friends and family.” I might delete the words “in that tiny head of yours.” Not because they might offend, but if would ever get a tattoo, I wouldn’t want it any longer than necessary.

  • anita

    Please stop perpetuating the myth that Julia dropped a chicken on the floor.

  • Melissa

    As Jacques Pepin once said when asked if he planned to wash his mushrooms (rather than just brush them): “Uf curze vee vill vash zehm, zey are dirty!”

  • Tags

    Please don’t tell the people at Drexel that every time they flush the toilet it sprays a germ-ridden aerosol over everything in the bathroom. Robin’s point about the immune system evolving through exposure to germs and other foreign bodies applies here as well. If a bully gives a nerd a swirly every day, which one do you think has a better chance of surviving the next epidemic?

  • Madeline

    I’m waiting to read the fuss over the wood cutting board under that chicken. Oy, How we ever survived before colored “food specific” plastic cutting boards….

  • Jeannie

    I could completely rant about this subject. First off, all the big institutional food companies, and I am working for one of them, my nickname is McDonaldista ( I needed the insurance) is all about germs, and the health department and wearing gloves for everything. I was reprimanded about wearing nail polish, touching my face while I was at the register( now I guess the money I was handling is incredibly clean, right?). I am not going to be in this job for very long but it showed me how this whole hysteria about germs is supported and nurtured by the corporate food world. I could go on about other things but I have 20 year olds lecturing me about the health inspector and that they are watching from everywhere so I have to use tongs to touch a tea bag and my hands, even though washed, cannot touch any food. Not that I am a conspiracy theorist but these institutional food organizations just fan the fire because it works in their favor because they then have the supposed systems in place to fight all these critters…

  • DJK

    At least there’s a silver lining to be found here. Someday a staphy outbreak will thin the herd of germaphobes, and we’ll still be here cavorting with our raw chickens and giving each other thumbs up on the highway as we laughingly recall our fading memories of “traffic.”

  • Lisa

    I don’t wash my chicken. But that’s because I don’t want to sanitize my sink when I’m done washing said chicken, which is what needs to be done. I cannot fathom washing dishes in a sink following a chicken shower. There are a lot of uninformed people who occasionally cook at home and are clueless about food sanitation and cross contamination. I would say the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” message is for them.

  • Marc L.

    It is less that these pathogens sicken or even kill us than our ignorance to them. Knowledge of food handling and their respective pathogens protects us from their evil ways. Why is it that the media feels the only way to protect the general public from itself is to drive emotional buttons and hysteria? As if the public didn’t have enough hysteria driven information to already contend with. I absolutely loved Brian Polycn’s handling of the trussing of the chicken. A little humor, great skill, and no drama. Thanks Michael.

  • Eklektika

    While I don’t have an opinion on washing or not washing poultry, I do take a stand on food poisoning. I spent last Monday throwing up instead of earning a living, and I think the chef should have paid better attention to food safety.

  • Ruthy @ Omeletta

    Total genius. This shit pisses me off, too. People have become so freaked out by food- brought on by salmonella scares and the like, which cover everything from chicken to broccoli to spinach- that it perpetuates the reasoning of eating packaged food, since it might be “safer”. Which adds more sodium and the like to our diets, increasing the likelihood of health problems, and putting more pressure on our already ridiculous healthcare system.
    Are the same people who are *not* washing their chickens also scrubbing the life out of their cheap bagged spinach, the same spinach that carries salmonella just as easily as chicken can? Drives me crazy. Food should be nourishment, not something to be so fearful of.

  • Brooke

    The problem isn’t people being pussies, it’s that our food supply is shitty — that’s why folks are paranoid. Serious foodborne illness outbreaks are more prevalent in the news, and I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the problem. Even the best chicken suppliers have rates of salmonella in their birds. I don’t wash chicken, but I’m careful with handling, and I wash my hands after prep to prevent cross-contamination. I owe my eaters that. If someone gets sick from my food, it’s my sloppy fault. Personally, I had a $3k hospital bill in 2007, a nearly-ruined vacation in 2010, and a whole week of work lost in 2012 to food borne illness. I would never want to do that to someone else.

  • MrWest

    Nice bird torture pictures: first you bound tit, then violate it, all while rubbing its skin with salt. As if that wasn’t enough, then you roast it in an hot oven. Delicious bird torture! If it wasn’t a chicken, we would all be in jail. YUM!!!!

  • Goober

    “Do I wash my chicken before roasting?” Every damn time. I just don’t spray the water all over the kitchen like an idiot on an “as seen on TV” commercial. Voiceover: “You’ve tried washing the chicken the old fashioned way ….”

    Then I wash the sink and surrounding area with hot soap and water, just like I do my dishes, and make sure to get the faucet too.

    Washing gets some slime and gutsy stuff off it, and it just makes me feel better. I think it is safe unless you are a moron who splashes water all over and can’t clean up.

  • Herb

    I don’t worry about washing a chicken before cooking. But I would never put a raw chicken on a wooden cutting board.

    • culturedsf

      why not? Wood has anti-bacterial qualities that inorganic things like plastic don’t. I use water and salt to clean and scrub my wooden boards. Also the cuts made on wood boards are self healing unlike plastic boards which are known to harbor bacteria in the knife cuts even after washing.

  • Allen

    I am much more relaxed about chicken stock after your original post.

    Aged eggnog usually gets a squeamish reaction from guest when I tell them it has raw eggs and cream from 3 years – the longest I could keep it.

    Every drop was delicious and I’m still upright.

  • W.T. Jeffrey

    When I saw “chickenshitstorm” I thought the secret was about to go viral. And now feeling guilty that it didn’t, I suppose I’ll divulge. The No Touch, Dunk, and Flush method makes the spread of bacteria in the home well nigh impossible. A disposable plastic knife is usually sufficient for dislodging the chicken from the packaging. Naturally this should be done in the bathroom such that the chicken slides gently without a splash into the toilet. Often the bag with the neck, gizzard, liver, etc. will just float right up, and if not, a few swirls with the toilet brush will do the trick. A disposable plastic fork will work well to retrieve the parts which are then placed on a disposable dish for later use. As you probably noticed the brush is just the right size to jam up into the chicken’s cavity. Swirl it around a little, dunk it a few times, flush, and repeat a time or two. Voila! Use the brush to transfer the chicken from the bowl to your cooking dish, season, and cook. The really good news is that e. coli dies at an even lower temperature than salmonella.

  • Rich

    My God, the chicken is on a wooden cutting board, where is your “red plastic” cutting board dedicated for raw poultry! I think I read somewhere that raw chicken photographs better on a red background…

  • Joe

    Someone explain Alton Brown’s own hysteria in dealing with chicken stock. On his Good Eats show as soon, and I mean as soon, as he finished the stock, he stuck the whole pot in an ice bath he made by filling a cooler with ice. That not being quick enough means of cooling, he dropped frozen plastic water bottles into the brew. The Anal Retentive Chef could be heard saying, “Alton! WTF?”

    Alton: if you cover that pot and turn off the heat it will be sterile until you open the lid again. Let it cool down to room temp with the lid on then freeze it or use it or whatever. I would even use it over the next few days without refrigeration if I were going to take it back to the boil. Scared the hell out of his audience I would think.

  • Scott

    Won’t add any more stories to show my support to Alton or Michael on this – let’s just say bacteria schmacteria – we’d all be better off with old fashioned common sense

  • Froggy

    Hi,
    what interesting post and comments. Seems, that you have touched an “open wound”.

    An ancient greek said that the way to the golden middle is going through the extremes.

    In the Middle Ages people did not know or care about hygiene. Were they healthy or did they live long?

    Nowadays, I have heard that the Japanese are obsessed by the quality of food, freshness and scrupulous cleanliness. Are the Japanese healthy? Do they live long? They do. And they even eat raw fish!!

    This whole discussion might create a kind of uncertainty. People with little cooking experience and who don’t understand food can be easily put into discomfort. And afraid people can be influenced!

    When you start cooking without knowledge, it is hard to decide what is wright or wrong. Probably there was no mother or grandmother or teacher who explained things.

    Perhaps, Mr. Ruhlman, it would not be such a bad idea, to publish something about sanitation. Because , when you have to decide, wether or not to rinse the chicken, the true luxury is having the choice.

  • Shelley

    I loved this rant, I am new to the blog but SO into it. It’s my new fave. For me? I do wash my chicken and then pat dry….why? Because my husband feels better when I do it AND because HIS mother did it. OK no problem, so I rinse the chicken. BUT, I have been to China 8 times…..if you’ve been raise your hands. In little tiny markets (do you call it a market if it’s a 3X5 space?) they have chickens hanging from a string in HOT HUMID WEATHER. OUT IN THE OPEN. SOMETIMES THERE ARE FLYS BUZZING AROUND. We westerners find this apalling, but people buy them and YES, they cook and consume them. Now I have to admit I have never bought one nor cooked one of those. Nor would I, EVEN though the heat would “probably” kill the bacteria. I say probably, because not “properly” refrigerated chicken might have resistance to heat – who knows? I feel I have not developed the requisite bacteria in my system to handle certian strains of bacteria. I am bringing this up because it’s the LACK of bacteria, in my opinion, that could contribute to illness. We are so worried about any germs, we dont allow our bodies to develop the GOOD bacterias which can counteract the bad…hence we get sick faster.( I do not use anti-bacterial products for this reason). The great people in that China town, have AMAZINGLY good bacteria in their digestive tracks which help them stay very healthy, whereas we might get sick until we developed what they have. We could take a bit of a lesson from that. I DO NOT scour the crap out of my kitchen with anti-bacterial agents when any form of raw poultry is prepared, I never will. I am sure some people may be shocked and dismayed at that. And yes, 45 minutes of roasting time is PLENTY of time to have sex while you wait (afterall, what else is there to do?) but I agree, wash your hands when you return- HEHEHE

  • Sumner

    It was interesting to read this article. My mom has a compromised immune system (toxoplasmosis), so I grew up knowing that there are germs out there, and how to be safe in my preperation and cooking procedures, but not over the top. Am I going to handle chicken and then start shaking people’s hands without washing? Hell no. Am I going to rag on a guy who freaks out about a huge pot of chili being left on the stove overnight under a simmer? Hell yeah!

    I don’t use alcohol hand sanitizer, because what the ever living frick happened to soap and hot water? Have I gotten food poisoning before? Yup. Did that make me freak out over germs? Nope.

    Everything is far too serious these days, people spend more time obsessing over the possibility of germs, then they spend enjoying the process of cooking their meal.

  • Tara

    I buy chickens that run around eating grass and bugs all day and then I wash them in the sink. Everything is going to just fine everyone. Alton Brown is a genius, and so are you, Ruhlman. Love it.

  • rwoof1

    Listen, let’s all pitch in a few bucks, develop and market a new convenient spray chicken cleaner. That’s what America needs! Then we end the debate.
    Michael, you have experience in bringing new culinary items to the masses. No one need ever worry again about how clean the chicken that they’re eating is.
    There’s always a better future through science, chemicals and fear mongering.

  • Lillian Bridges

    Love your blog and found this post particularly enjoyable. Also love that you champion fat! I don’t seen the problem in washing out the sink with soap and hot water. And for soup or steamed chicken (Chinese style) it is especially important to remove anything in the cavity that might make the soup cloudy. So, I’m with you and I’ll keep on washing and salting my chickens (critical for Hainan Chicken) and washing my sink and my hands…. Thanks!

  • Darren

    I don’t think the cooking competition shows help. These people should know basic microbiology that relates to food, yet if someone dropped a potato on the floor before tossing it into a deep fryer they’d have a complete shit fit. 400 degree oil will sterilized the outside of whatever hits the floor. You drop your raw ribeye on the floor or outside on the ground by your grill? So what? You’re about to hit it with several hundred degrees above the temperature that would kill botulism spores, e. coli, listeria, staph, and practically everything else. And stop it with the antibacteria soap! You’re just making things worse! Plain old castile soap is the way to go.

    Clinical Laboratory Scientist (ASCP) rant complete.

    On the stove top stock, I’ve always considered making it in a pressure cooker, straining out all the bits, and then bring it up to pressure again, then let it sit on the stove top. So long as you brought it up to pressure before use it wouldn’t be any different than what you’d buy at a store on a shelf.

    • Jessica

      More over with the antibacterial soap, there’s been some speculation that the overuse of antibacterial soaps etc., can further deplete the efficacy of antibiotics. Hence, adding to a growing problem with antibiotic resistance bacteria.

  • Jessica

    If people feel a need to treat a chicken intended to be eaten by basically treat it as a piece of something infected with plague, plus with an overwordly urge to clean it out and then wipe down the kitchen with bleach, perhaps one should just omit chicken from their diet.

    We eat alot of chicken at my house, as in several times a week. I apply standard food hygiene (wash hands etc) cook it until done. Never had a problem. The one and only time I’ve had a problem didn’t involve chicken. It involved meat, tasted and smelled somewhat funky but I didn’t toss it out as I should have.

  • MontanaHomesteader

    I don’t just WASH my chickens in the kitchen sink, I also eviscerate them, behead them, and singe them in the kitchen sink, shortly after killing and plucking them on the back porch. HAVEN’T DIED YET. In fact, haven’t had so much as a tummy rumble after eating these chickens. This kind of hysteria is exactly why the factory chickens are routinely rinsed with BLEACH before being packaged for sale. REALLY? BLEACH?! They can keep their bleachy chickens, thanks. I’ll stick with my home butchered kitchen sink chickens, because I know they won’t put us in the hospital.

  • Drexler

    So everyone is all “But my chicken is organic and doesn’t have any germs like those toxic conventional ones!” and “You can’t be afraid of a little bacteria! Back in my day we used to lick the floor before, during, AND after meals and we survived!”

    That’s great bro. If you think you’re too tough to get sick, or your food is too pure to have bacteria on it, or if you’re a celebrity chef with decades of experience cooking and cleaning up afterwards feel free to ignore any and all advice.

    But I sincerely hope that if your kid gets sick because you thought you knew better than to do whatever you can to decrease risk of food borne illness no one tells you to (in the words of Alton Brown) “Calm the fuck down.”

    • Jessica

      I have a compromised immune system due to a medicine required to keep a rare metabolic disorder in check. I eat chicken. I don’t wash it. I don’t eat raw chicken, I don’t eat anything raw; meat, fish, cured fish or meat or even one of my favourite dishes, gravlax. I avoid certain cheeses. I am weary of buffet meals.

      yes, people do get sick. Yes, people die from food-borne illness. People in my situation, with a compromised immune system from medicine, illness or a combination of it all, can die from what other’s experience as some discomfort. One can get an opportunistic infection that only happens with a compromised immune system. That’s pretty rare these days though – thank god.

      I take basic precautions at home when I cook. I wash my hands, use paper-towel, never put cooked and raw foods next to each other. I worry more over tainted drinking water and some other things, than what I do of whether or not I wash the chicken before cooking. There’s been food poisoning outbreaks from vegetables, too.

      With a compromised immune system; most everything turns into a potential source of infection. Working in a garden, digging in soil, can be dangerous. Foods and eating can be dangerous, water can be dangerous, tea can be dangerous, pantry items can be dangerous. Everything can be dangerous as microbes are everywhere. And yes, they’re in chickens. So I’m mindful, but one can’t go around being afraid, either. I’ve never contemplated even trying to sterilise my environment more than I have to. It would take alot out of living.
      But if one feels that washing their chicken before cooking it and that it negates fear, then wash it. The problem with fear is that it tends to not go away. It just comes back in a different form.

  • Gael N

    I think a major drive in favoring organically grown meat as opposed to a concentrated feedlot operation is for food safety. In the documentary “Food, Inc.” Joel Salatin processes his chickens outdoors and them gives them an ice bath. A standard operation will give them a bath in chlorine several times to kill all the bacteria. Yet despite the precautions these factory operations make they still have 10x the bacteria of one of Joel’s birds. With 10x less bacteria you probably never had to worry as much about cross contamination.

    Plus there’s a few things the food industry can do themselves. Chickens wrapped in plastic with their own fluids provide an ideal environment for bacteria to continue breeding. A chicken that has been air chilled and kept unwrapped in the butcher counter is much safer since you don’t have juices dripping everywhere. As an added bonus the skin is dryer which will yield a crispy skin.

  • Ed

    Did Alton have a big about-face on this, or was there a lot of pressure at the Food Network to ‘CYA’ on this topic. I remember him coming off as quite a germaphobe in those old Good Eats episodes.

  • Sara

    If this thought ever crossed my mind NO ONE in my family would ever eat chicken as we raise and process our own. 4 years in and not one of us sick.

  • Judy Zimmerman

    It still pays to have good practice just to be sure. “Better be safe than sorry” is a common phrase but is very important to follow and apply. We can never see bacteria with our own naked eyes but at least we are at ease in knowing that good hygienic practices have been followed.

  • Ann Tracy

    I’ve been cooking chickens for over 40 years now and have never gotten sick from eating any of them. Of course I do have a healthy auto-immune system and use lots of garlic when I cook chicken…
    Get a grip folks… and don’t buy from the factory farms… support your local farmers and buy organic!

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