A survey in the Netherlands has found more than a quarter of people wash raw chicken, which public health officials say increases the chances of spreading bacteria.

Results come from two surveys by the Netherlands Nutrition Centre (Voedingscentrum) with the Dutch population about safe food handling.

The first survey in May 2021 with 2,000 participants asked Dutch consumers about general food safety handling in the domestic kitchen. One of the questions was if they washed their chicken.

A second survey in November 2021 with 1,000 respondents was focused on safe handling of chicken. People were asked if they washed their chicken and more details about why and how. Both surveys revealed that more than 25 percent of consumers washed their chicken often or almost always.

Bacteria on chicken can cause food poisoning. Usually it is because of Campylobacter or Salmonella.

Washing raw poultry is not recommended, because of concerns about contaminating other foods and surfaces and increasing the risk of foodborne illness.

Surprising findings
The agency’s food safety expert, Wieke van der Vossen, said the fact that a quarter of consumers said they wash raw chicken was surprising.

She said the reason for asking the question was that from other countries, including the United States, it was known that people wash their chicken and related advice is given to consumers in these countries. For the Netherlands such information was unknown, and experts were curious to see if it was also common practice in the country.

The survey found people washed chicken mainly because they thought it was hygienic and wanted to wash away bacteria or they were used to doing it. However, it is through water droplets and juice of the raw chicken that bacteria spread to places such as the kitchen counters, cutting boards or other utensils.

The label covers storage, preparation and cooking advice

To make it clearer how to handle chicken safely, there will be a new mandatory warning on chicken packaging beginning in July 2022.

The Netherlands Nutrition Centre advises against washing chicken but offers several tips for people that still want to do it.

These include making sure there is as little splashing as possible when rinsing under the tap; after washing, clean the countertop, any utensils and all contact surfaces with hot and soapy water and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching raw chicken.

A different study from North Carolina State University, published in the Journal of Food Protection, found that more than a quarter of participants contaminated salad with raw poultry including many who did not wash the meat.

Researchers said it shows the need to change the “don’t wash your poultry” messaging to focus on preventing contamination of sinks and continuing to emphasize the importance of handwashing as well as cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and utensils.

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