Safe Holidays Series: To Wash or Not to Wash…Your Chicken!

— Written By poinsettias

One of the most argued questions in cooking, especially around the holidays, is “Do I need to wash my chicken before cooking?” The answer to this, when you get down to it, is that you do not need to wash any poultry, including duck and turkey. In fact, cleaning your holiday bird with water may cause more harm than good.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, raw animal products like meats, seafood, and poultry should not be rinsed. Raw juices containing bacteria can cover utensils, food, and surfaces nearby, potentially causing foodborne illness. The only way to get rid of the bacteria is making sure your poultry is cooked to 165°F, as shown from my previous topic on cooking temperatures.

According to folks from our food safety team at N.C. Cooperative Extension, bacteria rinsed from meats (like Salmonella or Campylobacter jejuni on poultry!) can be spread up to 3 feet away. In the video below from the New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, we can see a simulation of where bacteria can spread all around the kitchen sink.

After reading this, there still may be some folks who are unconvinced or feel uncomfortable with not washing off the juices and gunk from their poultry. A suggestion is to take a look at a food safety piece by NPR on frequently asked questions about washing poultry by food safety researcher, Jennifer Quinlan of Drexel University. One of her biggest suggestions for people who still may “really want” to clean their birds of gunk and juices, is to wipe it with dry towel. This prevents the spread of bacteria all over from a liquid transport. For more information on food safety, check out our NC State Extension website and Food Safety portal, and have a Happy Holidays!


Dietary Guidelines 2015–2020 (

Don’t Wash Your Chicken or Turkey (University of Maryland)