The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caused quite a stir recently with its consumer warning on raw chicken.
Don't bother with washing, it said in an April 26 tweet. Doing so can spread germs from the chicken to other food or utensils.
Well, what did they do that for? The black Twittersphere lit into them. Everybody and their mamas recoiled. You would've thought someone had died, and not just chickens.
Comments ranged from downright comical to cynical to sensible.
One woman wrote: "Wash the chicken ... wash it really good and wash anything it touches! But wash the chicken! Oh yeah ... wash the chicken and don't forget to wash the chicken and EVERYTHING it touches but also wash the chicken!"
Another said: "God only knows how many people handled that chicken before it was packaged."
Risk of spreading bacteria
The CDC stood firm. Not only was it better not to wash raw chicken, the same goes for any poultry, meat or eggs before cooking.
When we wash raw chicken, it said, splattering juices contaminated with bacteria, such as Campylobacter or Salmonella, can easily spread around the kitchen and even onto our clothes.
The tweet seemed to fall into our day from the blue sky, but Brittany Behm, a communication specialist in the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, said the federal agency regularly posts food safety messages on social media.
In fact, she said, the CDC and USDA have advised people not to wash meat and poultry before cooking for many years.
"This is because germs on the raw meats can spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces and make people sick," Behm said in an email. "Thoroughly cooking meat and poultry will kill bacteria, so washing is not necessary."
What to do instead
Instead, the CDC suggests using a separate cutting board for raw chicken and avoiding placing cooked food or fresh produce on the same cutting board used for the chicken and being sure to wash the used cutting board, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot, soapy water after prepping the chicken.
Behm said, "We are glad that people are passionate about their food and protecting themselves and loved ones from food poisoning. We encourage people to learn more about washing foods and ways to prevent foodborne illness."
For those of you still not convinced, consider this – 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food each year in this country.
Within just hours of the posting of a short story about the tweet on AJC.com, more than 20,000 people had read the news, 260 people had left comments and half of those had shared it.
It got me thinking about a couple of things. One, all the things we do just because our parents did it, like washing meat and poultry. It's called habit. Two, the belief that African-Americans don't read. Maybe we don't read enough or we don't read enough of what matters, but that clearly isn't true. And three, that African-American Twitter users are a particularly powerful force. That might be an understatement. "Black Twitter" or #BlackTwitter is basically the 21st-century extension of African-American barbershops, salons, church socials and college campuses. It's where everything from feminism to race, sex and politics gets discussed, dissected and disseminated with, well, passion.
The power to inform, entertain
I'll be honest. I'm on Twitter only because my job demands it.
I do, however, see its power to inform and even entertain. For a lot of people, it is an alternative to traditional media, which makes me wonder what would happen if an agency like the CDC could leverage that and really change the way health information is not only disseminated but expand its reach.
If a simple tweet about raw chicken can get that much traction, why not a tweet about HIV?
I know a lot of people said they'd keep washing their chicken, but I bet there were a lot of other people who started to rethink how they operate when prepping to cook meats.
'Stop and think about it'
And if it wasn't the CDC post, maybe it was the commonsense missive left by Mo Granger of College Park.
"So you'll buy a pack of ground chicken/turkey/beef and throw it right in the pan ... but you're grossed out with unwashed pieces of meat?!," Granger wrote. "At first I thought it was ridiculous not to wash meat until I realized ground meat is not 'washed'. Whatever you think you're washing off is ground up in the same packaged ground meat and cooked! Just stop and think about it."
Thank you, Mo!
I'm no longer grossed out by the notion that someone would cook chicken without washing it, but you know what they say about old habits. They are hard to break.