Since childhood, we have been taught to wash everything we are going to eat to avoid food poisoning or munching on dirt. However, very few people know that washing foods before cooking isn’t always a necessary practice. Sometimes washing certain foods can cause them to lose flavor. Sometimes it leads to more serious consequences, including bacterial contamination of your sink, your foods, or even your own body.
To wash or not to wash? Let’s take a looks at these eight foods that you should leave unwashed wash before cooking.
Since pasta is dry and usually comes in well-packaged bags or boxes, it’s very unlikely to be harboring any bacteria that can cause food-borne illness. So you don’t have to wash it.
Some people like to rinse their pasta after cooking it, though. By doing that, they’re actually removing the starches that help make your sauce stick to the noodles. So it’s better not to wash the pasta at all, unless you want to make cold salad.
2. Pre-Washed Salad Greens
If the label on your package of lettuce says they were washed, you can save some time and water by not bothering to rewash them. In the meantime, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that pre-washed salad greens, usually labelled “thoroughly washed” or “ready to eat,” can be eaten without extra washing.
The idea is that they have been processed in facilities that are typically more sanitary than the average home kitchen, and home washing may just increase the risk of cross-contamination. Pre-washed greens are bathed with a mix of water and a food-grade sanitizing agent such as hydrogen peroxide to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria on the greens, so you’re unlikely to get sick from eating them straight out of the bag. Of course, if you don’t like the idea of eating the remnants of these sanitizers, feel free to give your leafy greens an extra rinse.
Chicken eggs naturally come with a protective coating, which is nearly invisible. This coating is a very effective guard against bacteria. In the United States, eggs are washed using a machine that intensely scrubs them with soap and water. This effectively removes harmful bacteria such as salmonella along with the protective coating, which means that American eggs need to be refrigerated to keep them fresh. Most European countries skip the egg-washing part, because their chickens are vaccinated against salmonella infection. This means that European eggs are able to be stored at room temperature.
If you live in Europe, it might be necessary to rinse your eggs to remove dirt and debris before you eat them. If you live in the United States, however, you don’t have to do the extra wash.
It’s actually recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that you don’t wash your poultry before cooking. While some bacteria can’t be simply washed off no matter how hard you try, some bacteria may end up getting into your sink, onto other food, or onto your own body. As long as you cook the chicken to the right temperature, all the bacteria will be killed, so you don’t have to risk contamination by washing it.
According to the USDA, you shouldn’t wash a turkey unless you purchased a brined turkey and have to clean out the cavity. In that case, you will have to first take the time to remove dishes, dish drainers, dish towels, sponges and any other objects from around the sink area. Then cover the area around your sink with paper towels. Place the roasting pan next to the sink, ready to receive the turkey.
You can then pre-clean the sink with hot soapy water, rinse well, and fill it with a few inches of cold water. Run the cold water over the turkey gently to prevent splashing. Make sure the water is coming out the other end of the cavity. And that’s it. The bird is ready for the roasting pan.
6. Raw Fish
By washing raw fish, you actually take the same risks as washing poultry. Your attempt to clean your seafood in the sink might end up spreading harmful bacteria to other surfaces, which are unlikely to be sanitized by heat or disinfectants before they come into contact with other food. Remove the scales from fish if a recipe calls for it, but you may want to leave your fish unwashed to prevent your kitchen from becoming a breeding ground for germs.
7. Red Meat
Washing meat is just as risky as washing chicken or fish. Aside from the unnecessary risk of cross-contamination that can lead to food-borne illnesses, washing red meat can also remove a bit of the flavor. The extra moisture during washing will also affect taste. To keep more flavor, you can pat it down with a paper towel before cooking to get rid of excess moisture.
Once again, the most effective way to eliminate all the germs and parasites is to cook meat to the right temperature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 145 degrees for whole (non-ground) beef, veal, lamb, fresh pork, ham, and even fin fish.
When it comes to mushrooms, you may not want to soak them in water before cooking them. All mushrooms are fungi, which means they don’t have an outer skin like fruits and vegetables to keep the water out. Instead, they act like little sponges and actually change texture and taste when they absorb too much water. The more water is absorbed, the lower their flavor. Once they’ve become wet, it’s almost impossible to restore the original taste by simply drying them out.
This doesn’t mean you have to cook your ‘shrooms with all the dirt and debris. All you need to do is give the mushrooms a wipe with a slightly wet cloth or paper towel. A short rinse does the trick, too. Just don’t leave them in contact with water for too long.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.