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.
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.
If you liked this post, take a look at these links:
- My recent rants Cook Your Own Food. Eat What You Want and America Has a Serious Eating Disorder.
- Still in the mood to eat chicken? Then try my recipe for fried chicken.
- Julia Child’s roast chicken recipe.
- Watch Chef Brian Polcyn truss a chicken.
© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.