Wash Chicken With Vinegar


Ever wondered why people wash chicken with vinegar? Or do you think it’s just some old wives tale? Maybe you’ve seen somewhere that someone said they wash their chicken with vinegar and then ate it raw? … Some folks just prefer to wash chicken with vinegar, and there are a fair number of commercials. Have you ever tried washing your chicken with vinegar?

How to Clean Chicken: 7 Safety Tips for Handling Raw Chicken

Do You Need to Clean Chicken Before Cooking It?

Chefs, health experts, and food safety experts like those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that washing chicken increases the risk of foodborne illness and harmful bacteria growth. Rinsing or washing a raw chicken under the faucet causes the raw chicken juices and water to splash onto other surfaces: countertops, sponges, foods in the vicinity, your hands, your clothes, and other hard or soft surfaces around the sink. These droplets, which the naked eye cannot detect, contain bacteria that will grow and can cause illness, called campylobacter poisoning.

Additionally, cooking chicken to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit—the proper internal temperature for fully cooked chicken set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)—kills any bacteria present and eliminates the risk of foodborne illness, making it unnecessary to wash raw poultry.

How to Prepare a Whole Chicken Before Cooking It

To prepare a whole chicken for cooking, remove the package of organs inside the cavity of the chicken and either set them aside to roast alongside the chicken, or discard them. Tuck the wing tips underneath the whole chicken so they don’t burn during the long cooking process, and tie the legs together with kitchen twine for a more compact chicken that cooks more evenly.

7 Tips for Food Safety When Handling Raw Chicken

Cross-contamination is the biggest food safety concern with regard to incorrectly handling raw meat. Here are several things home cooks should keep in mind when working with raw chicken to prevent cross-contamination and maintain a safe kitchen environment:

  1. Clean tools properly. The ideal way to clean kitchen utensils after working with raw chicken is in the dishwasher on the sanitize setting. This kills any bacteria hanging around on cutting boards, knives, etc. If that’s not an option, use hot and soapy water to clean the tools.
  2. Cook chicken thoroughly. The best way to combat foodborne illness is to cook chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit for chicken breast, or to an even higher temperature for dark meat, like chicken wings or chicken legs. Cooking chicken to this internal temperature helps to eliminate the risk of illness. Stick a food thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken (avoid hitting bone) to get an accurate reading.
  3. Forgo washing chicken. Avoid rinsing chicken, soaking chicken, using vinegar to clean chicken, or using soapy water to clean chicken. If you use paper towels to pat dry the meat, throw that paper towel or paper towels away immediately, then wash your hands.
  4. Stay away from porous surfaces. Be mindful of the cutting board or countertop under raw chicken. If it’s a butcher block, wooden cutting board, or unsealed hard surface, the tiny openings will absorb and hold onto raw chicken juices. If there is no other choice, clean the surface with hot water mixed with a little bleach and scrub it with a steel or other abrasive scrubber that gets into the cracks of the surface. Note that this cleaning method will take its toll on the material over time.
  5. Use a separate cutting board. When working with raw chicken, use a separate cutting board—preferably a dishwasher-safe cutting board—and not the same board you’re using for all the other ingredients. This helps to prevent any salmonella pathogens from transferring from the chicken cutting board onto another surface or ingredient. If uncooked and therefore not destroyed, salmonella pathogens can cause food poisoning or other salmonella-related illnesses.
  6. Wash your hands often. After touching raw chicken, immediately wash your hands before touching anything else. Raw poultry, including chicken, leaks juices frequently, even when raw. The juice can get on your hands, even if it’s not obvious. Wash your hands with hot water and plenty of soap.
  7. Wipe down the whole kitchen. Once the chicken is in the oven and you’ve cleaned the kitchen tools properly, wipe down the whole kitchen with a sanitizing wipe. This includes countertops, door handles and knobs, the kitchen faucet, and any other surface that may have gotten contaminated.

What Does Acid Do to Raw Chicken Meat?

A chicken recipe might call for a marinade with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or buttermilk—all acidic products that can help to tenderize chicken. Acidic marinade ingredients break down meat fibers to make the chicken more tender. This also allows the marinade to penetrate the meat more deeply and impart flavor all the way throughout it.

However, leaving a piece of chicken in an acidic marinade for too long has the opposite effect and will make the chicken tough. Some acids are more likely than others to produce this effect. Fried chicken recipes, for example, usually ask that the chicken marinate overnight in seasoned buttermilk, which has acidity levels lower than those of vinegar or citrus juice.

Should You Wash Meat Before Cooking or Freezing?

Meat is a staple food in many diets and an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamin B12, and other essential nutrients.

However, meat, including poultry and fish, often carries harmful pathogens — both bacteria and viruses — that may cause food poisoning. Thus, it’s considered a high-risk food

In some cultures around the world, such as those in the Caribbean — where I live — washing meat is a common practice that’s considered an indicator of cleanliness in the kitchen. Acidic agents like lemon juice or white vinegar are typically included in the process.

Still, you may want to know whether washing meat is safe or effective.

This article explains whether there’s any validity to this practice, the benefits and risks of washing meat, and appropriate food safety guidelines.

raw chicken legs on a platter

What does washing meat entail?

Washing meat involves rinsing chopped or whole cuts of meat under running water to remove debris or remnants from trimming away the skin and fat.

The meat may be presoaked in a solution of water and acid — often white vinegar or lemon juice — then rinsed under running water prior to being seasoned with a dry rub or marinade, after which it’s cooked or frozen.

This practice is likely influenced by cultural practices in some countries, as well as where you buy meat.

In developing countries, wet markets and cottage poultry processors (also called poultry or meat depots) provide important sources of fresh meat. These markets sell recently slaughtered meat or let you select the animal for slaughter

Given these circumstances, it’s commonplace to rinse the meat to wash away blood or other physical contaminants, such as broken bones, that may have been introduced during slaughter.


Washing meat entails presoaking the meat in an acidic solution, rinsing it under running water to remove blood and physical contaminants introduced during slaughter, or both. It’s common in regions where fresh meat is sold.

Washing meat with water vs. an acidic solution

Raw meat, poultry, and fish may be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses that lead to food poisoning (1Trusted Source3Trusted Source).

Common foodborne pathogens include the bacteria SalmonellaListeriaCampylobacter, and E. coli, plus the viruses norovirus and hepatitis A. Together, these pathogens cause around 48 million cases of food poisoning in the United States each year

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that washing meat with plain running water doesn’t remove foodborne pathogens .

In fact, washing meat using plain running water may pose additional food safety and health risks by spreading bacteria to other surfaces and foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruit or salad .

However, one study found that scalding veal at 140°F (60°C) for 4 minutes, or spraying it with 180°F (82°C) water followed by a lactic acid spray, reduced bacterial growth on the surface of the meat .

Additional studies show that washing the surface of meat with an acidic solution like vinegar or lemon juice reduces the number of bacteria on raw meat, compared with washing with plain water.


Acidic solutions reduce bacteria on raw meat, but washing meat with plain running water doesn’t remove foodborne pathogens and may pose additional food safety and health risks.

Washing with water may contaminate other foods and surfaces

If you wash raw meat under plain running water, splashing water may transfer bacteria and viruses from the meat’s surface to nearby foods, utensils, and cooking surfaces. This may spread germs and increase the likelihood of you getting sick

Scrubbing the cooking surface or sink with soapy water doesn’t necessarily remove these pathogens and may increase your risk of food poisoning or the occurrence of food spoilage .

Therefore, it’s best to avoid washing meat under running water.


Washing meat with plain running water spreads foodborne pathogens to other foods, utensils, and cooking surfaces and increases your risk of food poisoning.

Effective acidic solutions and their uses

You can use food-grade acidic solutions to wash or prepare meat, as they help kill bacteria, add flavor, and tenderize the meat .

Here are common acidic solutions used in meat preparation:

  • White vinegar. This common cooking and cleaning ingredient is also one of the most common acids for washing meat. It contains acetic acid, which has been shown to reduce bacterial volume and growth on the surface of beef, chicken, and duck.
  • Lemon or lime juice. These citrus juices are not only useful in daily cooking but have also been found to reduce bacteria on meat and retain the flavor of cooked meat.
  • Food-grade sodium hydroxide (NaOH). This food additive prevents mold and bacterial growth and is used to remove the skins of fruits and veggies like tomatoes or potatoes. NaOH reduces bacterial growth on the surfaces of meat .

However, it’s not yet known whether these acids also destroy foodborne viruses. As such, it’s best practice to thoroughly cook all meat, which is the most effective way to kill harmful germs, according to the CDC .


Food-grade acidic solutions, such as vinegar, lemon juice, and sodium hydroxide, reduce bacteria on raw meat and are used for tenderizing and flavoring purposes.

Proper food safety and hygiene practices

Practicing appropriate food hygiene at home is the best way to ensure that your raw meat and cooked products remain safe.

The CDC and U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offer simple guidelines

  • Wash hands and surfaces. Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Scrub food surfaces, such as cutting boards, countertops, and sinks, before and after use .
  • Separate foods. Keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate to avoid cross contamination and the spreading of germs .
  • Thoroughly cook foods. Cook meat to the appropriate internal temperatures to kill harmful pathogens and make it safe to eat.
  • Chill. Promptly refrigerate meat and safely thaw meats in cold water, the refrigerator, or the microwave. Learn more about refrigeration storage.

If you choose to wash your meat before cooking or freezing, there aren’t well-established rules on the practice. However, here in the Caribbean, it’s common to mix 1 part of vinegar to 2 parts water or simply place the meat in a bowl and squeeze the juice of 1–2 lemons or limes onto it.

Next, trim the meat as desired, following general food safety guidelines.


Practicing food safety procedures at home and cooking meats thoroughly are the best ways to ensure that raw meats and cooked products are safe to eat.

The bottom line

Washing raw meat with plain water is ineffective at removing bacteria and may cause more harm than good by spreading foodborne pathogens to other foods and across cooking surfaces.

Acidic solutions like white vinegar and lemon juice may lower the number of bacteria on raw meat, although this practice is influenced by cultural practices and purchasing habits.

However, it’s unclear whether these acidic solutions kill harmful foodborne viruses, so practicing appropriate food hygiene is the best way to ensure that raw meats are safe to cook or freeze.

Just one thing

Try this today: Regardless of your chosen method of meat preparation, use a meat thermometer to ensure that all meats are cooked to internal temperatures that kill food pathogens. Doing so will keep you and your family safe.

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