Meats and poultry contain bacteria that are harmful if they enter the body. Due to this, some people wash meat before cooking, freezing, or marinating it. However, this is unnecessary and potentially even dangerous.

Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to wash meat. Washing it will not kill all of the bacteria but will increase the risk of spreading potentially harmful bacteria.

Keep reading to learn more about why washing meat before preparing it is inadvisable.

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Washing meat may spread bacteria to cooking utensils or surfaces.

The Department of Agriculture do not recommend washing meat or poultry before cooking it.

Generally speaking, washing can be a useful way of removing bacteria. For example, it is a good idea to wash the hands regularly to get rid of the bacteria that build up throughout the day.

This advice also applies to some foods, for example, fresh produce. Foods such as fruits or vegetables may have dirt and bacteria on their surface. Running cold water over fresh produce will help clean these away, making the items ready to eat.

Read more about why you should wash fruit and vegetables here.

Bacteria are present in the juices of raw meat and poultry. Campylobacter and Salmonella are two forms of bacteria that commonly contaminate meat and poultry.

Trying to wash the juices off meat can cause these bacteria to spread to other cooking utensils or surfaces. They can also transfer to a person’s hands and clothes or come into contact with other foods.

It is not always possible to notice when this cross-contamination happens, and it is difficult to clean. Cross-contamination can lead to bacteria entering the body and causing illnesses, such as food poisoning.

It is difficult to remove some types of bacteria from raw meat and poultry, even by washing it multiple times.

Some people soak the meat in salty water before cooking it, but this has no effect on food safety, and there is still a risk of cross-contamination when handling the water and meat during this process. If people wish to soak the meat, it is best to do this in a refrigerator.

Cooking meat and poultry at a high temperature is enough to kill all bacteria. People should aim to cook meats to an internal temperature of at least 145°F. It is possible to measure this with a food thermometer.

It is not necessary to wash meat before freezing it. Doing this could increase the risk of cross-contamination in the same way as it would before cooking. Once the meat has defrosted again, cooking it will kill all of the bacteria anyway.

People can freeze any meat. Storing food at a constant temperature of 0°F will preserve it indefinitely. At this temperature, bacteria will become dormant, and in this state, they are harmless and unable to grow.

Defrosting and consuming frozen meats is safe after any length of time. However, the quality and taste will decrease over time. After defrosting the meat, bacteria can grow on it at the same rate as before freezing. It is, therefore, best to cook and eat the meat quickly after defrosting.

It is essential to avoid freezing any meats that are out of date.

For the same reasons as above, it is not a good idea to wash meats before marinating them, as this will increase the risk of cross-contamination and is not enough to remove all the bacteria.

Instead, a person can put the meat directly into a marinade, making sure that the marinade completely covers it. Making small holes with a fork allows the marinade to enter the meat.

It is possible to marinate meats safely for a couple of days in the refrigerator before cooking them. To avoid cross-contamination, a person can use plastic bags to marinate the meat and throw them away after use.

As with other methods, it is important to clean thoroughly anything that comes into contact with the meat. It is also best to avoid using the excess marinade as a sauce afterward unless a person boils it first.

Cross-contamination is the main risk of washing meat and poultry. The bacteria present in meat and poultry can cause illness if they enter the body.

Campylobacter bacteria can grow on many types of meat. Infection with Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of gastroenteritis — an infectious form of diarrhea — in the world.

You can learn more about gastroenteritis here.

The most common symptom of this infection is diarrhea, which frequently contains blood. Other symptoms include:

These symptoms typically last for 3–6 days.

Another bacterium that is commonly present in meats is Salmonella. The symptoms of Salmonella infections are similar to those of Campylobacter infections.

In some cases, Salmonella infections can be serious, and people can even require hospital treatment. These cases are more common in those with a weakened immune system, older adults, and children under the age of 5 years.

It is a common procedure for manufacturers to clean chickens with chlorine after slaughter, in a process called pathogen reduction treatment.

Some people have safety concerns about consuming chlorine-washed meat, and they wash it to remove the chlorine.

However, this is not necessary.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, there are “no safety concerns” with consuming meat after chlorination. Research supports this claim, so people should not worry. They do not need to wash meat that manufacturers have treated with chlorine. In fact, as we have explained in the rest of the article, it is best not to wash it.

It is never a good idea to wash meats and poultry. Regardless of whether it takes place before cooking, freezing, or marinating, washing can lead to cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is when bacteria spread from the meat to other areas, such as the hands and kitchen surfaces.

Cooking meats and poultry properly will kill all of the bacteria. Washing them beforehand just increases the risk of infection.

Cross-contamination can lead to bacterial infections, which have a range of symptoms.

In some people, the consequences are more serious. For example, children under the age of 5 years may require hospital treatment for Salmonella infections.