September 13, 1999
Does Washing Food Promote Food Safety?
Historically, we equate washing to
cleanliness. We wash clothes, linens, cars, dishes, and ourselves. So, it is logical that
many people believe meat and poultry can be made cleaner and safer by washing it. Is this
true? Does washing meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, and vegetables make them safer to eat?
Review of studies from several
universities related to washing meat and poultry indicate that there is no benefit. In
fact, washing can allow bacteria on meat and poultry to spread to other ready-to-eat
foods. But always remember, bacteria that is present on the surface of the meat or poultry
will be destroyed by cooking to a temperature of 160 єF.
Bacteria in raw meat and poultry
juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. We call this
Hand washing after handling raw meat
or poultry or its packaging is a necessity because anything you touch afterwards could
become contaminated. In other words, you could become ill by picking up a piece of fruit
and eating it after handling raw meat or poultry. Practice good hand washing before and
after handling raw foods as well as when using the bathroom, changing diapers, tending to
a sick person, blowing your nose, sneezing and coughing, and after petting animals.
It is important to prevent
cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry juices by washing counter tops and sinks with
hot, soapy water. If desired, you may sanitize with a solution of one teaspoon of liquid
chlorine bleach per quart of water.
Packaging materials from raw meat or
poultry also can cause cross-contamination. Never reuse them with other food items. These
and other disposable packaging materials, such as foam meat trays, egg cartons, or plastic
wraps, should be discarded.
Washing or Soaking Meat and
Washing raw poultry, beef, pork,
lamb, or veal before cooking it is not recommended. Some consumers think they are removing
bacteria from the meat and making it safer; however, any bacteria present on the surface
is destroyed by cooking it to a temperature of 160 єF.
Callers to the USDA Meat and Poultry
Hotline sometimes ask about soaking poultry in salt water. This is a personal preference
and serves no purpose for food safety. If you choose to do this, however, preventing
cross-contamination when soaking and removing the poultry from the water is essential.
Sometimes consumers wash or soak ham,
bacon, or salt pork because they think it reduces the sodium or salt enough to allow these
products to be eaten on a sodium-restricted diet. However, very little salt is removed by
washing, rinsing, or soaking a meat product and is not recommended.
Do not wash eggs before storing or
using them. Washing is a routine part of commercial egg processing and the eggs do not
need to be washed again. Federal regulations outline procedures and cleansers that may be
used. "Bloom", the natural coating on just-laid eggs that helps prevent bacteria
from permeating the shell, is removed by the washing process and is replaced by a light
coating of edible mineral oil which restores protection. Extra handling of the eggs, such
as washing, could increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell
Before eating or preparing, wash
fresh produce under cold running tap water to remove any lingering dirt. This reduces
bacteria that may be present. If there is a firm surface, such as on apples or potatoes,
the surface can be scrubbed with a brush. Consumers should not wash fruits and vegetables
with detergent or soap. These products are not approved or labeled by the Food and Drug
Administration for use on foods. You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed
on the produce.
When preparing fruits and vegetables,
cut away any damaged or bruised areas because bacteria that cause illness can thrive in
those places. Immediately refrigerate any fresh-cut items such as salad or fruit for best
quality and food safety.
Safety Alerts compiles
comprehensive safety recall information for the United States. SafeMail is a free email
service to warn consumers of faulty products and contaminated foods. For complete
information regarding current recalls, past recalls and timely product warning
notification visit: www.safetyalerts.com.
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