By no means wash these four meals earlier than cooking them, warns CDC

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Washing a product thoroughly always seems to be the best thing to do to make sure it gets rid of dirt and bacteria. However, experts warn that your intuition about cleanliness may not always be correct. There are some foods you might wash before cooking that you should never clean, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, trying to wash these foods could do more harm than good. Read on to find out which four foods you should never put under the tap.

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After purchasing meat or poultry products from the store, you may be inclined to rinse these items to get rid of whatever remains of the farm or just the packaging they were kept in. However, the CDC does not recommend it. “Washing raw meat, chicken, turkey or eggs can transfer germs to your sink, countertops and other surfaces in your kitchen,” warns the agency. “These germs can get on other foods like salads or fruit and make you sick.”

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Recent research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that washing meat or poultry increases the risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen, which can lead to foodborne diseases. The agency urges consumers to leave the risky habit behind immediately. “Avoid washing raw meat and poultry, as potentially harmful bacteria build up on the surface of the raw product in high concentrations in the sink and can cross-contaminate ready-to-eat foods,” warns the USDA. The agency also points out that most bacteria are pretty loosely attached to these products, so rinsing the items can shake the bacteria loose so they can easily spread.

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You may understand why washing meat can lead to dangerous cross-contamination, but the risks are less obvious with eggs. Conor O’Flynn, O’Flynn Medical Operations Manager, explains that washing an egg “can actively encourage the transfer of harmful bacteria such as salmonella from the outside of the egg to the inside of the egg.” When you wash an egg, the shell’s natural barriers can be compromised, “the harmful bacteria can invade the inside of the egg and provide a perfect environment for it to grow”. The bacteria can then get to you if you don’t cook your eggs thoroughly enough, as they would with a liquid fried egg.

The USDA says eggs that are laid have a natural, protective shell called a flower, which is the first line of defense against bacteria. The flower is removed using the commercially available washing process. “It is being replaced with a lightweight coating of edible mineral oil that will restore the protection for long-term home storage of eggs,” explains the USDA. “Additional handling of the eggs in your home, such as washing, could increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell cracks.”

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While you may feel like you need to wash your meat and poultry, the USDA says that with current commercial washing techniques, it is no longer necessary. While washing “to remove dirt, slime, grease or blood was appropriate decades ago when many were slaughtering and preparing their own food, the modern food safety system does not require it,” says the USDA. According to the authorities, meat and poultry are cleaned sufficiently thoroughly during processing. Therefore, any further washing is an unnecessary additional risk.

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