The majority of people in Southeast Asian countries wash raw poultry meat at home before cooking, according to a study.

People are advised not to wash raw poultry before cooking because it increases the risk of cross-contamination.

The study, published in the journal Food Control, assessed consumers’ self-reported and observed behavior of raw poultry washing practices.

A survey on consumer washing practices before cooking was conducted in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Observational studies and interviews in Indonesia and Malaysia followed this.

Reasons for washing meat
A total of 2009 responses were eligible for data analyses. More than 45 percent of participants purchased raw poultry products from traditional or wet markets.

Ninety-six percent reported washing raw poultry at home before cooking. The main reasons for this were to remove dirt, slime, blood, or feathers, and washing makes them feel safer. There was also a misunderstanding that washing helps to remove germs. Respondents mostly learned the practice from family members or through their own experiences.

Older consumers, those who were married, on a low income, and who purchased raw poultry from farms, butchers, or wet markets were significantly associated with washing poultry. Two hundred sixty-seven people said household members had experienced food poisoning after eating homemade poultry dishes.

A lack of cleanliness of raw poultry bought from traditional markets caused consumers to wash it. The number of participants who would not wash raw poultry increased from 4 percent to 16.9 percent if they perceived the product had been slaughtered according to food safety standards. Those who purchased from supermarkets were more confident in not washing raw poultry.

People were knowledgeable about the correct handwashing techniques and understood the implications of inadequate cooking or using the same chopping board for raw poultry and cooked food. However, almost half of them were unaware of the indicators of adequately cooked poultry.

Observed findings
Raw poultry washing and handwashing practices of eight people from Indonesia and Malaysia were observed. All of them rinsed or washed raw poultry before cooking. The time spent washing and preparing raw poultry ranged from 21 seconds to 20 minutes.

Observed behavior did not match the knowledge of participants in the survey, where more than 95 percent agreed that hands should be washed with soap and water after handling raw poultry. In the observed study, people did not wash their hands before handling raw poultry, using utensils, or touching ingredients.

Participants were informed about not washing raw poultry, and an explanation was given as to why they shouldn’t do it. Only two people said they would be willing to change their current washing practices. Others said they would continue the practice because of their perception of cleanliness, culture, and faith. Households with young children or elderly members were less confident about not washing raw poultry before cooking.

Participants from Laos and Indonesia reported being more confident about not washing raw poultry upon understanding the rationale for not doing it. Scientists say this indicates the possibility for targeted food safety messages and educational awareness suited to cultural differences in the region.

“Due to the challenges associated with raw poultry products purchased from traditional markets and the lack of confidence among consumers, a more effective food safety message would be to encourage good hand hygiene practices during and after handling raw poultry and to wash kitchen sink and preparation area with soap and water,” they added.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)