To Wash, or Not To Wash: That Is the Question

The holiday season means family, friends and colleague celebrations, which often means cooking — or eating — special holiday fare with them.  The safety of the food being prepared or consumed is always a concern, but it is especially important at this time of year.  The question that arises is what needs to be washed, how to properly wash, and when it should be washed.

stopdonotwashTo Wash, or Not to Wash:  Thanksgiving turkey or holiday duck or goose – No matter what fowl or meat that is being prepared, do not wash before cooking.  Research indicates that there is risk of harmful bacteria being spread by spattering water during washing to counters and sinks.  If not thoroughly sanitized, these illness-causing bacteria may be transferred to ready-to-eat foods such as salad ingredients.

Cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F kills bacteria such as Salmonella or Campylobacter.  Other meats need to reach 145°F except ground meats must to be at 160°F.  The only way to assure that the appropriate temperature has been reached is to measure it with a meat thermometer placed in the center or thickest part of the product.  For a whole bird the appropriate location is between the thigh and body.  Most turkeys have a temperature sensor in the breast that pops up during cooking; however, these devices are not always accurate and should only be used as a guide.  The only sure way is to use a meat thermometer.

washing-veggiesTo Wash, or Not to Wash:  Fresh fruits and vegetables – Definitely wash.  Each item, including those with skins or rinds that are not eaten, should be washed just before use by rinsing under running water.  Only wash the amount fruits and vegetables you plan to eat.  Firm-skinned fruits and vegetables should be rubbed by hand or scrubbed with a clean brush while rinsing under running tap water.  After washing, drain fruits and vegetables or dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not use soap or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables. These products are not intended for consumption.

To Wash, or Not to Wash:  Packaged fruits and vegetables Items labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed” do not wash.  Otherwise, wash as described above.

To Wash, or Not to Wash:  Hands – Wash thoroughly and often.  Thorough handwashing means wetting your hands with warm running water and applying soap then rubbing your hands together to scrub them well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.  Continue rubbing hands for at least 20 seconds – about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Rinse hands under running water.  Dry your hands using a clean cloth or paper towel.

Video cameras placed in individual’s homes revealed that during food preparation food preparers rarely washed their hand or if they did, they only quickly rinsed them.  Hands need to washed before, during and after preparing food; after handling uncooked eggs or raw meat, poultry or seafood (or their juices); and before eating food.  Other times to wash hands include after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; before and after treating a cut or wound; after touching an animal or animal waste; after touching garbage; and after using the toilet.

Enjoy the holiday season with family, friends and colleagues.  Know that if you followed the above guidelines you have done everything possible to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Written by Sue Snider, PhD