I was watching this clip from The Social this week and I was appalled:
Firstly, I’m a Millennial, and I sure ain’t scurred about handling raw meat. In fact, I used to cut off the toenails of the raw chicken feet for my mother so she could make chicken foot soup. Now that I live on my own, I pretty much manhandle my chicken. I make my own meatballs by hand — I get all up in there. So I get so tired and irritated when people talk about Millennials as if we are somehow an entitled, homogenous group that you have to handle with kid gloves.
But what really got me is that there seem to be two types of people in this world – those who wash their chicken (mostly West Indians and Black people and a few others) and those who don’t (yuck). Now, I’m not an expert, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but it would seem to me that the people who don’t wash their chicken are some of the very same people who neglect to clean (remove the giblets and innards of) and/or season their chicken (with salt, at the very least).
From the following vid, I can tell that people don’t know what I mean by washing your chicken:
By washing your chicken (or washing your rice), I mean rinsing – at the very least running your chicken or your rice under water (until the water runs clear, in the case of cooking rice). You don’t use soap. You can, however, take the extra step and rub your chicken (and fish for that matter) with some lime and/or lemon and/or salt and/or vinegar. This has the added benefit of pre-seasoning the meat and taking away that “raw” or “fishy” smell or taste. It’s not just about bacteria.
When I was doing research for this article (and I did do some cursory research), I came across a site that read:
The “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” program website says: “If germs were visible to the naked eye, you would see that washing poultry just splashes bacteria all over you, your kitchen towels, your countertops, and any other food you have nearby, such as raw foods or salads. This can make people sick, especially young children, pregnant women, older adults and the immunocompromised.”
Health Canada says:
“Do not wash raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood before cooking because the water used in washing could splash and spread the bacteria from the meat to other foods, hands, clothes, work surfaces and cooking equipment.”
I even watched this video:
I’m an admittedly messy cook myself, but not even I splash about like in the video above. You’re supposed to run the water gently/softly to limit splashes – not full force like a bazooka. You are also supposed to hold your hand and the chicken down low in the sink. I also make sure my clean and dried plates are put away in the cupboards and are not beside the sink in the off chance that there could be splashes. There are ways to wash chicken safely and minimize risk.
The lady standing over the sink in the video above is just as extra as the people who accidentally “hurt” themselves in those cheesy TV infomercials that play in the wee hours of the morning on the Shopping Channel. Nobody cooks like that. Or at least, nobody should cook like that. And if you do cook like that – splashing water all about – you were already a dangerous cook to begin with.
Now, there will be some people who innocently believe that sufficiently cooking their chicken will kill all of the bacteria on it. While this is true (for the most part, depending on how well you cook your chicken, which is another story altogether), again – it’s not just about bacteria.
I wash my chicken because after I clean the chicken (and don’t get me started about the people who just open the package of chicken without stripping off the skin and all visible fat), there are often little chicken bits like leftover pieces of fat, pieces of bone, blood etc. And you should clean your chicken because taking the skin off of the chicken reduces the amount of saturated fat you consume and makes for a more pleasurable eating experience (so that I don’t have pieces of fat and feathers and chicken kidney in my mouth). I suppose you can cook with the skin on – most do and it can add flavour – but I prefer to cook my chicken without it. That’s another reason why I wash my chicken — to rinse the blood and chipped bone pieces before I season it.
I also wash my chicken for the same reason that I wash my fruits and vegetables before I cook them – I don’t know where it’s been before it got to me. I’ve heard people say, “Well I’m gonna cook the chicken anyway and that’ll kill the bacteria.” But I’ve never heard someone say “Well, I don’t wash and peel my carrots because I’m gonna cook it anyway.” (And if you are one of the people who does not wash their fruits and veggies, please do not invite me over next time. Thanks.)
But why is that? It’s because we subconsciously understand that there can be dirt on the surface of the carrot — dirt and debris that we’d rather not get into our cooking, dirt that is not removed by cooking. I rinse and scrub my potatoes – especially if I am going to eat the skin – because we/I understand that there can be dirt lodged into the crevices on the surface of the potato.
“Chicken companies go through meticulous cleaning processes to ensure your meat is as germ-free as possible before it’s shipped to grocery stores, says Richard Lobb, a spokesperson for the National Chicken Council.”
But I’m sure you’ve watched all of those undercover animal farm films and vegan documentaries where you see what really happens to your meat before it even gets to the grocery store. It could have been rolling around in sh*t and manure and ammonia and chlorine for all I know. Best believe then I’m gonna wash my chicken.
On rice: I wash my rice because my mom told me that rice is just left out in the open where rats and other vermin can have at it before it is put into bags. She told me that there could be rat poo, and that piece of information scarred me forever. I will admit that washing chicken and rice could be a holdover from antiquated beliefs about food preparation. Perhaps washing chicken and rice was important twenty years ago but are not so important now. Perhaps food is stored and kept differently nowadays. I don’t know. While she could be wrong, I’ve definitely seen weird pieces of stuff in my dry, uncooked rice – no matter the brand. Heck – I’ve seen pebbles and debris and other foreign objects in my lentils. Thus, I wash.
I’ve been living on my own for almost eight years now, washing chicken all the way, and by God’s grace I have yet to get sick from my own cooking or cleaning (shameless plug for my food blog www.lifeafteroxtail.com).
The inner germaphobe/West Indian comes out of me whenever I discuss washing food. I totally understand that West Indians take cleanliness to another level (remember “Dettol”?) compared to many other people. So a lot of this is a vestige of being raised in a West Indian home where I was told to squat when using a public toilet and to use my foot to flush it, a home where my mother always had wet wipes with her, a home where I learned to get paper towel to open the bathroom door…
I’ve since carried many of these lessons over into my own adult life. I carry Lysol wipes when I’m travelling to wipe down airplane food trays and the phone in my hotel room. I regularly wipe down my keys, the cards in my wallet, and my cell phone. I also regularly wipe down my keyboard at work and my work phone. I’ve washed the cushions of my sofa. I always have hand sanitizer in my bag. To this day, my sister handles her cell phone with a paper towel and always has it on speaker so that it doesn’t touch her face. So there should be no surprise that I also wash my chicken.
On the other hand, I would witness (non-West Indian) friends at school take their apple out of their lunch bag and place the apple on the dutty lunchroom table and later take a bite out of the same apple and then wonder why they got sick the next day (ok…slight exaggeration).
One time (and one time only — you’ll see why), I went to Farm Boy (a grocery store) here in Ottawa and picked up a rotisserie chicken for dinner. I took one bite out of that chicken and had to spit it out. No taste. Like none. NONE. Not one spec of seasoning could be detected. Sometimes food can be underseasoned, and I understand that, but it’s like they didn’t even try. They just damn near gave up on the chicken, let it roll over twice on the grill and packaged it up for sale to unknowing consumers. It’s a shame.
Growing up, my parents would often re-cook the rotisserie chicken they bought from the grocery store. And when they bought raw chicken and fish, they cleaned it in the sink. THEY WASHED THE CHICKEN. They scaled the fish. The cut off the fishtail. The cut off the fish head to make soup. They took the fat off of the chicken. Then they let the chicken marinate in the fridge with thyme and salt and lemon and lime at the very least. My father would sit in the master bedroom and grate coconut to make coconut milk for the rice and peas while watching tennis on Sundays. And when he finished grating that coconut, when he squeezed out the fibre to collect the milk, he would get the rice and RINSE IT UNDER THE FAUCET before adding the coconut milk and red kidney beans (and SALT WITH SEASONINGS).
This, my friends, is how we cooked.
We were not all raised the same. I understand.
However, this is why I wash my food. I don’t care what di people dem sey about “high standards” and “taking care” – I wasn’t there when you “took care,” before my food got to me, so imma wash my food.
“They don’t clean your chicken when you go to the restaurant.” No, they don’t. I have also come to understand that many people in the service industry do not wash many things or neglect to clean certain things (including their hands) when preparing food, which is one of the many, many, many reasons that I do all of my own cooking as time and energy permits (shameless plug again for my blog www.lifeafteroxtail.com).
At the end of the day, you do what you want when you cook – you’re the person who’ll be eating the food anyway (unless you invite me over, in which case you better wash your chicken and your rice). But as for me and my house, we shall wash our food. Amen.