University of Maryland Extension

Don’t Wash Your Chicken (or Turkey)!

Image from the "Don't Wash Your Chicken Campaign"
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As the holiday season approaches, University of Maryland Extension educator Shauna Henley wants people to think twice before washing their turkeys for Thanksgiving.

“I always recommend that people shouldn’t wash their turkey, even though many instructions say to do so,” said Henley, Ph.D., who joined UME in January as a family and consumer sciences educator for Baltimore County. “The problem with washing/rinsing raw [poultry] is that the bacteria is going to be on the surface and not internalized in the muscle tissue, so the force of the water hitting the poultry surface can cause bacterial spray up to three feet around the area it was washed.”

Henley became well-versed in poultry-rinsing rituals while completing her doctoral degree at Drexel University. She worked with nine Philadelphia focus groups from different ethnic backgrounds (three African American, three Hispanic, and three Asian) to see how they acquired their poultry, how they prepared it, and how they cleaned up and packaged leftovers. Her findings were then organized into her dissertation entitled “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” Results of an Interdisciplinary Approach to Reduce Incidence of Infectious Foodborne Diseases.

Henley’s campaign received national exposure and was featured on news outlets including Nightly News with Brian Williams, ABC’s The Chew, The TODAY Show, NPR, ESPN Pardon the Interruption, and BuzzFeed.

 “The government doesn’t recommend washing poultry as early as 2005, so “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” was just a creative way to bring old information to new light,” Henley said.

The bacteria typically found on raw poultry, Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter jejuni, can be sprayed onto other foods and utensils surrounding the area where the turkey is being washed; and because as few as ten Salmonella cells can cause illness (particularly in pregnant women, children zero to five years old, adults over 65, and those who are immunocompromised) washing the turkey is a tradition that food safety experts are not so thankful for. The "germ-vision" animation created by Henley and her colleagues depicts the splash-effect unseen by the naked eye. Watch below:

I think that our mind set is to be clean, so we wash our hands, wash our fruits and vegetables, and the train of thought for many is to wash [poultry]…even though from a food safety standpoint, it isn’t necessary,” Henley said.

 Now as an FCS educator for UME, Henley is helping to update curriculum on food preservation and food safety for youth and adults. However, her “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” message is still coming in handy, particularly at this time of year.

“During the holidays when you’re sharing time and food with family and friends, it’s really important to practice safe food handling,” Henley said. “The best thing I can do as an extension educator is to provide scientific information and allow people to make informed decisions.”


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