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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, Renee. From takeaway tortellini, let's go back into the kitchen and do some home-cooked chicken. For most people, preparing a chicken for dinner begins with a basic first step: rinsing off the raw bird.

JULIA CHILD: And then another thing I like to do is wash the chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUNNING)

CHILD: Just run the water right through it inside and out. I just think it's a safer thing to do.

GREENE: But here's some news: turns out Julia Child was wrong. Washing chicken is actually unsafe.

NPR's Maria Godoy explains.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Raw poultry is covered in nasty stuff like salmonella that can make you sick. But guess what? Rinsing your poultry only makes it more likely you'll spread the stuff around. The bacteria present on raw chicken can really fly - even a gentle rinse can send them up to three feet away from where your meat is. But surveys suggest that up to 90 percent of us insist on washing raw chicken before cooking it.

A lot of cookbooks still tell us to do it - even though the USDA has been advising people not to rinse chicken for years. So researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia have started a public health campaign. They want Americans to know that chicken washing is just unsafe.

The best thing to do, they say, is to skip the bird bath altogether and just make sure to cook your chicken properly. That means heating the chicken to at least 165 degrees.

Now, all of this may be confusing. After all, we're told to wash spinach and fruit. So why not meat?

Jennifer Quinlan, a researcher at Drexel, says the difference is that we wash fruits and vegetables mainly to remove dirt and pesticide residue.

JENNIFER QUINLAN: While they may have some bacteria on them, they're nowhere near the levels of bacteria that you're going to have on a raw meat product.

GODOY: So in other words, fruits and veggies? Go ahead and wash 'em. Raw meat? Cook it to kill it. Bon appetit.

Maria Godoy, NPR News.

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GREENE: And you can read a lot more at our food blog, The Salt.

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GREENE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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