Should you wash meat before cooking it?

chickenQ. When I buy chicken or meat, I like to wash it under cold running water before cooking. A friend of mine claims the chicken or meat must be washed in boiling water to clean it.  Is one method better than the other? Is either necessary? 

A. Not only is it not necessary to wash raw meat before cooking, it’s not a very good idea.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety Information Service:

Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking it is not recommended…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 food-borne illness. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing food is not necessary.

The article also has some useful food safety tips about brining meat, washing eggs, and cleaning raw produce.

  • Brining: Keep raw meat in the fridge while soaking and take care not to let the brine splash onto other surfaces as it may harbor bacteria; wash brining vessel thoroughly after use.
  • Eggs: Don’t wash them!
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Wash with water and a brush; avoid vegetables soaps and detergents.

See also: How to Kill E. coli on Vegetables.

Thanks for the great question!

9 thoughts on “Should you wash meat before cooking it?

  1. My concern about unwashed meat goes beyond the bacterial aspect. I often find tiny flecks of plastic/styrofoam adhering to the meat from the packaging. It’s my understanding that plastics and styrofoam are definitely carcinogenic when cooked. And there are times when I notice a “slime” layer, for lack of a better term, coating supposedly unexpired meats. For those reasons and the thought of who-knows-what could have ended up on the meat during processing has me feeling like I need to give it a wash. I’m just careful with my washing during and after.

      1. I agree..i WASH my meat..Always! Sometimes it smells too gamey as well..a good quick vinegar wash takes that smell away

  2. Did you just not read this article? You still don’t get all the bacteria off of it and you still take the risk of contaminating other food, surfaces and utensils. Pick off the plastic or styrofoam before cooking. But never EVER was your meat. If you season it well it will not smell gamey. It will come out perfectly. This goes for any meat.
    This also includes pasta. Don’t rinse pasta after you have boiled it. You are then taking perfectly cooked and bacteria free pasta and running it under nasty hot city water. So you just defeated the purpose of making it safe. You just need to drain the pasta well, put it back in the pan and add some butter or olive oil. Not a lot, just enough to not make the pasta stick.

  3. No,no,no! Never ever wash any meat before cooking. You can contaminate surfaces, utensils and other things around when washing meat off. If meat is slimy regardless of expiration date, smell it. If it has a bad odor other than meat then throw it away. Slimy meat is usually a sign of meat gone bad. All bacteria will be cooked off and your meat will taste so much better too if it’s not a washed down version of it. Plus you haven’t got specks of blood or juice from meat all around to contaminate your kitchen which will make you very sick.

  4. If you clean the sink and counters around the sink with an all purpose spray and use paper towels then rinse the area you will be fine. You just need to pay attention to what you are doing and not be a sloppy washer. My family has been washing meat for over 56 years and we’ve never gotten sick because we are overly careful. I do love how serious we all are taking this entire subject, though.

  5. what about the eggs? why shouldnt you wash an egg? and do you mean don’t wash a raw egg or a boiled egg? i may sound naive in asking, but my i really would like to know since I’m always making eggs for egg salad.

    1. No, there is no need to wash eggs before (or after) cooking them. I would just wash my hands before and after handling them–or any food.

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