Meat & Poultry: To Wash Or Not (Part 1)Thursday, August 05, 2021
In 2018, a host on the Canadian television show The Social discussing “touch-free meat” caused an age-old discussion regarding meat washing to go viral. People are so passionate about this topic that it continues to this day albeit at a slower rate. This topic has heavyweights such as celebrity chefs, doctors and talk show hosts weighing in on the matter. In addition, notable experts on food safety from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) also made their position on the topic known.
So, should you wash your meats before cooking? To answer that question, the purpose of washing meats must first be explored. The consideration of its purpose is related to washing for the removal of bacteria or washing as a part of the preparation process to remove unwanted matter. Most Jamaicans, and other Caribbean nationals, would have been taught to clean and wash meats and poultry before cooking. To clean this includes, for poultry, removing the contents of the bone cavity, and for both meat and poultry, trimming to remove unwanted pieces. A vinegar or lime juice solution is used to rinse the meat and poultry pieces so as to “cut down on the rawness” and also to finish removing unwanted debris such as small pieces of broken bones. Afterwards, the preparation area is cleaned with soap and chlorinated water.
The food safety agencies such as USDA, CDC and CFIA have made their position known: Do not wash meats and poultry. This decision was made from the position that washing meats and poultry in the sink, under running water, will not kill bacteria but in fact will cause the spread of bacteria resulting in the food safety risk of cross-contamination. Since most people no longer slaughter and prepare their own meat and poultry, the USDA has stated that the washing practice is an outdated one that is not necessary due to current food safety practice. An observational study, titled “The Food Safety Consumer Research Project: Meal Preparation Experiment Related to Poultry Washing”, was conducted with 300 (158 control, 142 treatment) participants and is used to substantiate this position. To enable the comparison the treatment group was exposed to messages on:
• preventing cross-contamination by not washing poultry before cooking
• using separate cutting boards for raw foods and ready-to-eat foods
• proper way to wash hands
The 2019 Executive Summary showed that participants' reasons for washing of poultry were primarily to remove debris (30%), due to habit (28%) and the passing down of the practice (19%). It also showed 60% of participants had bacteria in their sink after washing poultry, 14% had bacteria present after sinks were cleaned or sanitised and 26% contaminated lettuce with bacteria.
Hand hygiene and cleaning and sanitising of utensils and work area were two study parameters also measured; participants performed poorly. Of concern, there was no marked difference between the treatment and the control groups.
One of the important takeaways from this meat-washing discussion is purpose. Washing meats does not kill bacteria. Which side are you on?
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