How to wash chicken in the kitchen more safely, according to physics

 The practice is not recommended by health authorities since it can spread hazardous diseases.

In trials to see how washing poultry influences how germs spread in kitchens, water sprays from a piece of raw chicken.  CARMODY, CAITLIN
In trials to see how washing poultry influences how germs spread in kitchens, water sprays from a piece of raw chicken.

Washing chicken before cooking is not recommended by health authorities since it can transmit hazardous bacteria. There are, however, ways to make it safer if you're one of the roughly 70% of individuals who do, according to a poll of US supermarket shoppers.

Instead of telling consumers not to wash chicken, research published in the March Physics of Fluids aimed to "recommend how to do it safely, or more thoughtfully," according to mathematician Scott McCalla of Montana State University in Bozeman.

The researchers sprayed raw chicken under running taps and observed the water and microorganisms that sprayed onto neighboring surfaces. Several factors had a significant impact on the results.

The faucet's height above the chicken had the greatest impact. The germs went further if the water fell 40 centimeters (about 16 inches) before striking a chicken breast or thigh than if the water fell 15 centimeters (about 6 inches) above the chicken.

Droplets of water splashed more than 22 centimeters into the air in tests involving the upper faucets, contaminating much of the surrounding area. Droplets splashed just about 5 centimeters high from lower faucets, and there was surprisingly little contamination on neighboring surfaces.

The researchers also discovered that when they turned on a faucet, the initial blast of water sprayed tainted water all over the place. As you turned it on, the spray became less and less.

Chicken's adaptability was also crucial. When water hits the chicken, it generates a small divot in the soft surface, which causes the splatter to go further than if the chicken hadn't deformed. Dimpling and the propagation of germs are reduced when the water pressure is reduced.

Salmonella and other bacteria that can cause foodborne diseases can contaminate raw chicken (SN: 8/9/10). According to food safety specialist Ellen Shumaker of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who wasn't involved in the study, even a little splashing can contaminate sinks with bacteria that can spread through contact with other items and hands.

Splashing can still be reduced as part of a multipronged approach to keeping germs at bay in the kitchen, according to Shumaker. She explains, "We do know that there will always be people who will always wash" poultry.

Tips to minimize contamination from washing raw chicken

Experts advise against washing chicken before cooking to prevent the spread of bacteria that can cause foodborne diseases. But, according to a new study, there are some methods to make it safer:

  • Reduce the distance between the faucet and the chicken's surface.
  • To avoid a splattering of water across your counters, gently turn on the water.
  • Keep your washing time to a minimum.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing your kitchen should be done according to US Department of Agriculture rules.

C.D. Carmody et alChickensplash! Exploring the health concerns of washing raw chickenPhysics of Fluids. Vol. 34, March 2022. doi: 10.1063/5.0083979.


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