A recent tweet from the CDC set the internet off with an uproarious response that you might not expect from a simple food safety recommendation.

Don’t wash your raw chicken! Washing can spread germs from the chicken to other food or utensils in the kitchen.”

If you’re like many Americans, however, this advice goes against some of your fundamental food safety knowledge. So, what is the right call for raw chicken? Is the CDC right, or should you stick to your mother’s age-old wisdom on this issue? Here’s a closer look at the facts:

Why washing chicken isn’t recommended

When you wash chicken—or any raw protein—you risk splashing water onto the sink, countertops, and any nearby utensils or dishes. After contacting the raw meat, that water could be contaminated with some dangerous bacteria, including Salmonella and Campylobacter. Once surfaces in your kitchen have been contaminated, the chances of foodborne illness are much higher. If, for example, you were to wash raw veggies in the same sink where you washed your chicken, cross-contamination could occur. And, since you wouldn’t cook the vegetables in your salad, germs wouldn’t be killed before you dig in.

What you can do instead

Many defenders of washing chicken before cooking say that thoroughly cleaning the kitchen will prevent any germs from spreading, so washing chicken is perfectly safe. Unfortunately, even with good cleaning habits, your kitchen probably isn’t as clean as you think it is. Instead of washing your chicken and risking the spread of germs, ensure that you cook chicken to proper temperature to kill any lingering bacteria—chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do want to clean your chicken before cooking, you can pat it down with a paper towel.

Separating food and health myths from facts isn’t always easy. That’s why MeMD makes it easy to see a medical provider any time, day or night. And if you do find yourself feeling sick after something you ate, we’re here to help!

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