Raw meat: To wash or not?

Find out why it is not recommended to wash raw meat before cooking it.

Why did the chicken cross the road? It certainly wasn’t because it needed to be washed before it was cooked. Despite many years of this recommendation, people still think it is beneficial to wash poultry, beef, lamb or veal before you eat it. The reason why is quite simple: washing doesn’t get rid of the bacteria, it only spreads it. Cooking to the proper temperature is how you kill the bacteria.

When meat is washed in the sink, there is a much greater potential to spread the bacteria from the meat onto other contact surfaces in the kitchen. This increases the chance then of cross-contamination. In addition, most bacteria are not just on the surface of the meat, but may go deeper than what a wash would take care of. Therefore, cooking meat to the proper temperature is the critical step that must be followed to kill the bacteria throughout the meat. The following chart from Fight Bac defines the proper cooking temperatures:

Safe Cooking Guidelines


Temperature (Fahrenheit)

Roasts, steaks and chops of

Beef, Pork, Veal and Lamb

 145 F

Ground Meats (beef, pork, veal, lamb)

160 F

Poultry (whole, parts, or ground)

165 F

Eggs and egg dishes

(both yolk and white should be firm)

160 F


165 F


145 F

Shrimp, lobster, crabs

Flesh pearly and opaque


Milky white, opaque and firm

Washing hands however after handling raw meat is critical in preventing cross contamination. Washing hands for a minimum of 20 seconds in warm water using soap is a proper procedure. Also, don’t forget to wash any surfaces that the raw meat may have contaminated, such as countertops, sinks, faucets and more, with hot soapy water and you may follow this with a sanitizing solution, see FightBac.org for information on sanitizing.

Lastly, produce is in a different category than meat, and should be washed prior to eating. Washing produce helps wash off any lingering bacteria from the item. It is important to even wash skins that may not be ingested, such as cantaloupe, as the bacteria can be transferred inside when it is cut. Use a brush for tough skins such as cantaloupe, or potatoes. It is not necessary, or recommended to use soap or detergent when washing produce.

Visit Michigan State University Extension to search for food safety or nutrition related class offerings.

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