True Or False? Wash Raw Meat Before Cooking

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  12/1/2005 11:00:24 PM

News You Can Use For December 2005

The recommendation from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that meat and poultry not be washed before cooking has prompted questions because many people have always done so in the belief this made the meat safer to eat.

According to the Guidelines, washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking is not recommended. Bacteria, the major cause of foodborne illness, are killed by cooking to the proper temperature. Washing raw meat and poultry can allow bacteria that are present on the surface of the meat or poultry to spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces. This is called cross-contamination.

LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says it is important to prevent cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry juices by washing counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water. If desired, you may sanitize with a solution of 1 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of water.

Hand washing after handling raw meat or poultry or its packaging is a necessity, because anything you touch afterward could become contaminated. Practice good hand washing before and after handling raw foods as well as when using the bathroom, changing diapers, tending to a sick person, blowing your nose, sneezing and coughing and after petting animals.

Packaging materials from raw meat or poultry also can cause cross-contamination. Never reuse them with other food items. These and other disposable packaging materials, such as foam meat trays, egg cartons or plastic wraps, should be discarded.

Sometimes consumers wash or soak ham, bacon, or salt pork because they think it reduces the sodium or salt enough to allow these products to be eaten on a sodium-restricted diet. Little salt is removed, however, by washing, rinsing or soaking a meat product. These practices are not recommended.

The Dietary Guidelines cover several key recommendations.

  • Clean hands, food contact surfaces and fruits and vegetables. Meat and poultry should not be washed or rinsed.
  • Separate raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing or storing foods.
  • Cook foods to a safe temperature to kill microorganisms.
  • Chill (refrigerate) perishable food promptly and defrost foods properly.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or any products made from unpasteurized milk, raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs, raw or undercooked meat and poultry, unpasteurized juices and raw sprouts.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service provides additional information about washing other food products.

Eggs. Do not wash eggs before storing or using them. Washing is a routine part of commercial egg processing and the eggs do not need to be washed again. Federal regulations outline procedures and cleansers that may be used. "Bloom," the natural coating on just-laid eggs that helps prevent bacteria from permeating the shell, is removed by the washing process and is replaced by a light coating of edible mineral oil, which restores protection. Extra handling of the eggs, such as washing, could increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell cracks.

Produce. Before eating or preparing, wash fresh produce under cold running tap water to remove any lingering dirt. This practice reduces bacteria that may be present. If there is a firm surface, such as on apples or potatoes, the surface can be scrubbed with a brush. Consumers should not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent or soap. These cleaners are not approved or labeled by the Food and Drug Administration for use on foods. You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce.

When preparing fruits and vegetables, cut away any damaged or bruised areas because bacteria that cause illness can thrive in those places, Reames explains. Immediately refrigerate any fresh-cut items such as salad or fruit for best quality and food safety.

The LSU AgCenter nutritionist offers more tips to prevent foodborne illness.

  • Wash hands and food contact surfaces often.
  • Separate raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing or storing.
  • Cook meat, poultry and fish to safe internal temperatures to kill microorganisms.
  • Chill perishable foods promptly and thaw foods properly.

For additional information about the food safety, contact the FCS agent in your parish. For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at www.lsuagcenter.com.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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