Most people prefer to wash meat and poultry with water before cooking to flush away germs from the pieces. This activity has become a ritual for some communities like Belizean Nigerians—they rinse the meat with running water; and soak it in a large bowl containing cold water, lemon juice or vinegar for a few minutes. However, USDA disapproved of washing beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and meat due to the transmission of bacteria to other things, such as utensils, other food items, or surfaces.
“We always wash meat, poultry, or fish before cooking because the slaughter stores in Varanasi consider chopping the carcasses outside, and all butchers sit near each other while cutting the pieces. Also, they hang carcasses in front of their shop that is susceptible to dust, germs and insects like mosquitos and flies”, Vivek, a local Varanasi citizen, said.
He added, “I remember the first time when I saw my mother cooking the meat on the porch— as we Brahmins can’t let non-vegetarian things inside our house, she took out all separate utensils and stove. Then she washed the meat multiple times in a large bowl full of water. I was curious to know so I asked her, she replied that it removes all germs and dust over it”.
On the contrary, Pawan Prakash, a manager at the Food Corporation of India (FCI), revealed that cleaning meat before cooking can expose the other substances to the bacteria present in the raw meat juices.
Risk of Cross-Contamination
In some cases, it is mandatory to clean eatables. For example, fruits and vegetables have various fatal micro-organisms on their outer coverings. Therefore, rinsing with water can remove specks of dirt and make them free of bacteria.
"Meat and poultry contain Campylobacter and Salmonella bacteria present in their juices. Hence, cleaning can cause these bacteria to contaminate utensils or surfaces. It may also transmit to anything that might be in touch with them", Mr Prakash said.
"Sometimes, it is difficult to get rid of germs even after cleaning multiple times, and this leads to cross-contamination where these bacteria enter the human body. Thus, a person can suffer from various infections, such as food poisoning, typhoid, stomach pain, vomiting, and dysentery— or maybe serious illnesses like peptic ulcers, diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and blood disorders".
Although some people try to soak the meat in salty water, this would not prevent cross-contamination. The best way to resist cross-contamination and kill all the bacteria is to put the meat in a refrigerator.
Furthermore, when you cook meat, obviously the temperature is high, it destroys all the pathogens. Likewise, freezing the meat can also evacuate it from germs. But, to be on the safer side, you can measure the temperature of the meat before cooking, the internal temperature should be around 145°F.
Why is Refrigeration a Good Option?
Preserving the meat in the refrigerator at 0°F can deactivate the bacteria as they become innocuous and unable to replicate. Even though there is no time restriction for defrosting and consuming, the quality and taste will not be the same. Also, defrosting helps bacteria regain the strength to grow; Hence, it is advised to cook the meat quickly after taking it out of the refrigerator.
While using deep freezers for storing, the USDA prescribes that chicken parts like thigh, breast, or wings can be stored for a maximum of 9 months whereas pork chops are best for up to 4-6 months. In case of fish, only lean fish stays fresh inside the freezer for 6 to 8 months, while, fatty fish would be well preserved for about 2 to 3 months.
Is washing meat in Chlorine a necessity?
Pathogen reduction treatment is a process of cleansing slaughter meat with chlorine. This procedure is mainly followed by manufacturers.
Meanwhile, people have some concerns about washing meat with chlorine. So, they clean the meat again. But is it a necessity?
The answer is no. It is not necessary to clean chlorine-washed meat.
Adam Smith Institute stepped up to support pathogen reduction treatment. According to their report, the reduction of Salmonella from 14% to 2% was noticed after using chlorine dioxide solution.
On the contrary, the EU disagreed with the use of anti-microbial rinses at first. Nevertheless, the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) proved that the pathogen reduction treatment is safe. They concluded that chlorine treatment can inactivate Campylobacter and Salmonella to a certain extent. After that, the EU nations also advised their citizens to consume chlorine-washed poultry.
Some USDA approved anti-microbial rinses are chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate, and peroxyacids.