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Why Do Black People Wash Chicken?

I didn’t realize Black folks and other minorities and people are color are typically the only people who are adamant about washing off their chicken until I was an adult. I noticed it because every time the “chicken washing debate” would circulate on social media whites/Caucasians would always appear astounded and shocked there was even a debate about the topic. Is washing chicken bad?

woman washing chicken with water in a sink

Cultural History

Like most Blacks, I grew up washing chicken. Most people wash their chicken because they do so habitually. It’s done out of habit. For years, older generations have washed their chicken, so the custom was simply passed down. 

Let’s examine the history of food preparation for African Americans. During slavery, enslaved people often had to feed their families with less desirable ingredients that were passed on from their slave masters. Slave masters would often take the more desirable areas of animal protein for their meat consumption. The remaining scraps were then used as the primary source of meals for Blacks.

Examples include pig intestines to make chitterlings, butts of oxen used to make oxtails, pig feet, chicken and turkey necks, hog jowls, and more. To be direct, these areas of the animal smell awful. It would make sense why Blacks would want to give all of this food a thorough cleaning.

Black people are also used to spending large amounts of time washing collard greens, mustard greens, black-eyed peas, beans, etc. These items definitely require thorough washing because they are grown in soil and the ground. If you skip washing your greens you may end up with bugs and dirt in your pot liquor broth. We have all heard the stories, and many of us have made the mistake and have experienced this first hand.

raw chicken tenders in a glass bowl

Skeptism

Another reason people wash their chicken is because they are skeptical of where it’s been, who handled the meat, and how it was handled. Most of us have seen footage from inside “kill plants,” farms, and manufacturing facilities. It’s often not a pretty sight. People want to wash their chicken in an attempt to remove any surface dirt and grit.

CDC Guidance

The CDC has direct guidance on how to prevent food poisoning as it pertains to cleaning chicken. On their website (in bold print) it says, “Do not wash raw chicken. During washing, chicken juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops.”

Here are a few more tips from their guidance:

  • Place chicken in a disposable bag before putting it in your shopping cart or refrigerator to keep raw juices from getting onto other foods.
  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling chicken.
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw chicken.
  • Never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate, cutting board, or other surface that previously held raw chicken.
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing chicken and before you prepare the next item.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure chicken is cooked to a safe internal temperature of 165°F.
  • If cooking a microwaveable meal that includes frozen raw chicken, handle it as you would fresh raw chicken. Follow cooking directions carefully to prevent food poisoning.
  • If you think the chicken you are served at a restaurant or anywhere else is not fully cooked, send it back for more cooking.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftover chicken within 2 hours (or within 1 hour if the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F, like a hot car or summer picnic).

The CDC provided this guidance to prevent Salmonella contamination.

cooked chicken tenders on a plate

Salmonella Contamination

According to the CDC, they estimate that Salmonella causes more foodborne illnesses than any other bacteria. Chicken is a major source of these illnesses. In fact, about 1 in every 25 packages of chicken at the grocery store are contaminated with Salmonella.

You can get sick from contaminated chicken if it’s not cooked thoroughly or if its juices leak in the refrigerator or get on kitchen surfaces and then get on something you eat raw, such as salad or vegetables.

Cooking chicken to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees will provide confidence for consumers that pathogens and viruses will be destroyed during the cooking process.

maple bbq chicken wings drizzled in sauce

How Do Black People Justify Washing Chicken?

Many people feel they need to wash their poultry to remove fat, feathers, and yellow surfaces of the bird. They also contend they will simply bleach and clean the surfaces when finished.

Many people also like to coat the chicken in lemon juice and/or vinegar. I’ve also seen stories of people washing their meat with soap.

Recommendation

The decision to wash your chicken is one of personal preference. I personally do not because I believe science supports that heat and safe internal temperatures will kill off anything I don’t want in my meat. For me, it isn’t worth the risk of contaminating my sinks and utensils.

As always, do what works best for you!

Dina

Sunday 27th of February 2022

Wow...I wash everything (meats, veggies), thought everyone did! I have just recently heard not to wash chicken and this not wise to me (I don't care what color your skin)! Ironically the organ meats have the higher nutritional value not that that excuses the "less desirable" parts being given to slaves. Slavery never should have happened but that's another issue. Thank you for wonderful recipes and much needed education.

Brandi Crawford

Sunday 27th of February 2022

Thanks for sharing! FYI the correct term is enslaved people, as opposed to calling us slaves.

Caro

Thursday 17th of February 2022

Great info, thanks!

Madison

Friday 11th of February 2022

Really appreciate the historical context! This type of education is so valuable.

Brandi Crawford

Friday 11th of February 2022

I agree!

Ashley

Thursday 10th of February 2022

Thank you for sharing this information. Super interesting and very insightful. I enjoyed learning about the history of washing chicken, especially since I’ve never really heard of people doing that.

Brandi Crawford

Friday 11th of February 2022

Yep, this eye-opening and educational for a lot of people.

Eunice

Thursday 10th of February 2022

My parents grew up with farm animals that they raised for food, so I understand washing the chicken. It was a part of the process that continued when they no longer raised their own chickens. I stopped washing my chicken for the reasons you listed. It’s a hard habit to break.

Brandi Crawford

Friday 11th of February 2022

That's interesting!