Naturally, humans want to clean anything they consume. However, washing products like meat and poultry isn’t necessarily safe, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Regardless of how consumers wash their meat and poultry, it is not recommended because bacteria can spread to other foods, utensils, and countertops, causing cross-contamination.
When people harvested their own animals decades ago, they would need to wash their meat to rinse off dirt, and other contaminants, however, most people now are purchasing their meat from markets and grocery stores so cleaning the meat isn’t necessary. USDA states, “Meat and poultry are cleaned during processing, so further washing is not necessary. Never use soaps or detergents on your meat or poultry products. They can contaminate your food with chemicals and make it unsafe to eat.”
In fact, food-borne illness can be further spread through pre-washing, so it’s more important how consumers prepare their meat, rather than if they wash them before cooking. The USDA recommends these temperatures for cooking all raw meat:
•Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
•Ground meats are safe to eat at 160°F. For burgers, insert the food thermometer in the side of patties until it reaches the center for an accurate reading.
•Poultry products, including whole, parts or ground chicken or turkey, are safe to eat at 165°F.
•Cook fish and seafood to 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and flaky.
Whole cuts of meat will only have bacteria present on the outer layer of meat. If the cuts are cooked at the appropriate internal temperature all bacteria will be removed. Products like ground beef are different cuts of beef that have been mixed and finely ground, which can pose more risk of contamination, which is why its internal temperature is much higher than whole cuts.
If consumers do feel the need to clean and sanitize, they should begin with their countertops and cooking utensils first. USDA states three rules for protecting food from contamination:
1. Significantly decrease your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, BEFORE handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
2. Thoroughly clean and then sanitize ANY surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated by raw meat and poultry or their juices, including the inner sink.
3. Destroy any illness-causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.
4. Wash your hands thoroughly BEFORE handling food products.
5. Do not reuse any packaging to store food after you have cooked it.
6. Use sanitizers and disinfectants for the appropriate surfaces. Sanitize cutting boards and utensils. Disinfect countertops, surfaces, and sinks.
Additionally, the USDA has suggestions for other popular food items consumers tend to want to clean once they have purchased them. This includes eggs, pre-washed produce, and normal produce.
For commercially produced eggs, the normal processing routine is to wash the eggs to remove the natural protective layer and replace it with edible mineral oil. This helps to protect and preserve the egg for consumers. If washed off, the eggs are no longer preserved or protected.
For pre-washed produce, it is safe to consume without any extra rinsing. Be sure to keep away from contaminated surfaces and prevent cross-contamination, though.
Produce that isn’t labeled “pre-washed” can be washed, using water, before consuming, but do not use any soaps or detergents to remove germs and dirt. Firm surface foods, like apples, and potatoes, can be scrubbed with a brush and water.
To learn more about food safety protocols head to fsis.usda.gov.