It's the sticky pieces on raw chicken that force Rita Ross to rinse it in her sink before she cooks it.
"There is this little film between skin and flesh that I do not like, it's kind of like mucus," said Ross, 63, from Raleigh, North Carolina. "I just feel that washing makes it cleaner."
However, the problem with rinsing raw chicken is that it does not make it "cleaner", but injects potentially harmful bacteria onto the kitchen counters and even onto other foods that have already been properly washed and ready to eat.
This is the result of a study released Tuesday by the Ministry of Agriculture.
"Many people prepare their salads around the sink to be contaminated," said Mindy Brashears, Assistant Secretary of State for Food Security at the USDA.
The USDA worked with North Carolina State University to investigate how local cooks use raw meat and how these practices affect nearby food.
The researchers recruited 300 people to test chicken and prepare a salad kitchens at NC State. Some attendees previewed food safety videos that prevented raw chicken from being rinsed. Most participants followed the advice.
In the control group ̵
"How many times have you peeled a vegetable and thrown it in the sink, and you just picked it up and carried it on," said Brashears. "At this point you have contaminated your vegetables."
Microbiological Horror Stories
Some participants "washed" their chicken by either simply dipping it in the sink with water or by adding soap, vinegar, or lemon juice.
"These are horror stories from a microbiological point of view," said Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and professor at NC State. According to Chapman, there is no good evidence that soaking raw chicken in vinegar or lemon juice kills bacteria.
"What surprised me most was how much food preparation takes place in and around a sink after someone has washed chicken," he said. Often the participants rinsed the salad in a colander in the sink where they had just eaten raw chicken.
Contaminated water from the pool then squirts on the salad. "We in the food safety community did not have a good feel for it until the work we did here," said Chapman.
Nobody ate the food prepared during the study. Investigators went into the test kitchens after preparing meals, wiping down sinks and counters, and found they were contaminated even after the participants cleaned them.
Spice containers also showed signs of contamination.
The CDC estimates that 48 million people suffer from a food-borne disease every year.
Salmonella are the bacteria most people associate with raw poultry, and in the United States, the CDC causes about one million diseases each year. Most suffer from diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps, most recover but nearly 400 die each year from salmonella.
Another type of bacteria, Campylobacter, also occurs in raw or undercooked poultry, accounting for about 1.3 million diseases each year.
Food safety experts are also at risk. "I had Campylobacter about a decade ago," Chapman said. "I will not go into detail, but it was not fun at all."
"I've always seen my parents do it"
The phenomenon of chicken washing is nothing new. In fact, it has been happening in the kitchen for decades.
"As I grew up, I always saw my parents doing it," said Ashley Williams, 23, a student at NC State.
The USDA and NC State have reinvented the study to illustrate their results for NBC News. Both Williams and Ross were participants, and they both washed out their raw chicken.
"That's what the people around me did when I grew up, I picked it up from the culture."
And it's likely that these decades of chicken washing caused diseases that were not reported.
"You probably got sick from eating and just do not know," Brashears said. "People say 'Oh, I had a 24-hour flu' and never went to the doctor."
Children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are the most vulnerable to food-borne diseases.
Food safety experts I say it's important to rebuild the next generation and bring the kids to the kitchen to teach them not only how to cook, but how to make sure they do it, "Brashears said. You may be the one who causes change and stops the cycle of food-borne diseases. "
Other ways to reduce the risk of cross-contamination are:
- Wash thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds, then hand dry with a paper towel, then the paper towel discard
- sink and kitchen counter before and after the preparation of the food disinfect
- with a meat thermometer to ensure that the chicken reaches 165 degrees
- using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and other foods. [19659041FollowNBCHEALTHon Twitter and Facebook.