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Food safety during the holidays

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 12/12/2019, midnight

The centerpiece of any holiday feast is the bird -- whether a perfectly basted turkey or a tasty, rotisserie chicken. Many cooks make rinsing meat before cooking their first step, but that’s a wrong step.

“People are still shocked when we tell them not to wash poultry,” said Marianne Gravely, one of the US. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) food safety educators. “Back in the early ‘90s we were saying that.”

Washing chicken won’t remove many bacteria, but it can spread germs to hands, work surfaces, clothing and nearby utensils or food -- a process called cross-contamination. With meat and poultry, the only kill step for pathogens is cooking, not rinsing.

Cooking is the only way to kill pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter. Consumers should use a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry reach a safe minimal temperature: 165 degrees for poultry; 160 degrees for ground meats; 145 degrees for steaks, chops, roasts, fresh or smoked ham, fish and shellfish.

Consumers should rinse their fresh fruits and vegetables with cold water, but not poultry, meat or eggs, according to the experts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to avoid detergents or soaps when washing food because they can leave behind residue and can affect taste. There are no FDA-approved food cleaners on the market and the agency hasn’t found anything to be more effective at removing bacteria than cold running water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne pathogens sicken an estimated 48 million Americans every year, putting 128,000 in the hospital and killing 3,000.

Food safety experts recommend washing anything used in food preparation including counters, cutting boards and utensils in hot, soapy water. And washing your hands properly with soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing food.

Keeping raw meat and poultry separate from fresh produce in your grocery bag, in your refrigerator and during food preparation can also minimize cross-contamination.