Remember beloved chef extraordinaire, Julia Child, who had her own TV cooking show back-in-the-day? Well, this grand cook used to wash raw chickens right before cooking them because she thought doing so would get rid of the germs. However, the idea of rinsing chicken is still debated today among many cooking pros. Many of us old schoolers wash our chickens because we have been taught to do so but are we wrong?

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), properly cooking a chicken to the right temperature will kill any bacteria. The agency also stresses how washing raw poultry in your kitchen sink and under running water is a VERY bad idea. If germs were visible, you would see that washing poultry just splashes raw chicken juice bacteria on anything that is nearby–kitchen sponges, utensils, sinks, countertops, faucet handles and clothing.

Water can travel super fast in every direction and only a very small amount of the bacteria salmonella is needed to cause a foodborne illness or food poisoning. Salmonella poisoning can cause fever, severe diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach cramps, dehydration, headache and sometimes vomiting for between two and five days. In certain cases, however, it can also lead to more serious illnesses in older adults and in those who have weakened immune systems.

When handling poultry it is imperative to practice safety. Here are a few poultry safety handling tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling uncooked  poultry and their juices.
  • Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to prepare the next item.
  • Sanitize food contact surfaces with a freshly made solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water.
  • Cook 165°F for poultry (chicken, turkey, duck), including ground chicken and ground turkey

If all of the warnings about washing chicken has not convinced you to stop doing so, try a safer method that is recommended by Argyris K. Magoulas, a USDA technical information services specialist. If you want to remove excess sodium (many commercially produced chickens have added sodium to help preserve the meat and remove blood), it’s OK to soak it in water — so the juices don’t splash — and leave it in the refrigerator for no more than two hours before cooking.