USDA says don’t wash chicken before cooking, but is cooked bacteria good for you?
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research shows that washing raw poultry actually increases your chance of getting a foodborne illness because it spreads bacteria around your kitchen. It’s not just chicken either, USDA does not recommend washing beef, pork, lamb, veal or eggs before cooking.
Eggs are pre-washed but bacteria may be inside the shell. Instead of washing raw meat and poultry USDA recommends that you wash your knives and cutting boards and other surfaces and never let raw meat or its juices touch other foods, especially foods that you will eat raw such as fruits and salad greens. Washing cannot get rid of bacteria on meat, but the washing water becomes contaminated and splashes of contaminated water will deposit bacteria on you and the surfaces in your kitchen.
This advice is not new, but most people are still surprised and find it hard to resist the urge to wash meat, especially if it seems slimy with bacterial growth. The USDA estimates that the bacterial load on freshly processed chicken carcasses is between 1,000 -10,000 colony forming units (cfu)/cm2 (Get a ruler and see how small a square centimeter is.)
The average quarter pound beef patty has over a 100 million bacteria and there is no difference between free-range or organic or grass fed animals; they are all loaded with bacteria that can multiply rapidly even when stored properly. Under ideal conditions Salmonella doubles every 20 minutes, if you start out with just 2 bacteria, in an hour you will have 32, in 2 hours you will have 1,000 and in 8 hours you will have about million. Fortunately most of these bacteria will not cause illness if you use a food thermometer and cook at temperatures recommended by the USDA. But, think for a minute, what happens to all that cooked dead bacteria?
The bodies of cooked bacteria break apart and release their contents which include chemicals that may be toxic to humans called endotoxins.1 These endotoxins cannot be destroyed by cooking or by digestion with gastric acids.1 The endotoxins attach to saturated fat which helps them to be absorbed more easily into our blood.1, 2.
When these endotoxins get into our blood stream our immune system recognizes them as foreign and attacks to clear them away. That attack starts an inflammatory response that can be detected by blood tests. After every meal of foods that contain bacterial endotoxins and saturated fat there is a measurable increase in the level of circulating endotoxins and inflammatory markers in our blood stream.1,2, 3, In this brief video Dr. Michael Greger, who reviews and reports on nutrition research, explains these concepts.
Inflammation in our blood stream causes stiffening of our arteries and a rise in blood pressure that lasts for about 4-6 hours.4 When this research was originally done in 1996 researchers thought that the inflammation was caused by saturated fat in a high fat meal (sausage egg McMuffin).4 High fat meals were blamed and directly associated with increased inflammation everywhere including the lungs5 a 2011 Australian study found that a high-fat meal (hamburgers and hash browns) reduced lung function and decreased the effectiveness of asthma medications.6 Now some researchers think that the inflammation seen after eating a high fat meal may not be caused by saturated fat itself but by dead bacterial endotoxins attached to saturated fat.
In 2011 researchers tested 27 common foodstuffs and found that the highest levels of bacterial endotoxins were in meat products and fermented foods such as cheese. Most of the foods with high bacterial endotoxin loads were also high in saturated fat. It is not surprising that chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma and arthritis are so common. Most people are in a state of chronic low-grade inflammation from the loads of dead bacterial endotoxins that you dump into their bloodstreams at every meal.
If your goal is health you have to stop the chronic inflammation in your body. Detoxing diets are usually a waste of time and effort because they are often followed by re-toxing and more inflammation. Think instead about changing your beliefs about food and forming new lifetime eating habits. Endotoxins were minimally or barely detectable in fresh fruits and vegetables1 and the USDA recommends washing them before eating. Get into the habit of having fruit for breakfast instead of foods such as eggs and sausage that have high bacterial endotoxin loads and saturated fat.
One blog is unlikely to change your lifestyle; the goal is to give you information to help you to make conscious well informed food choices. If you know that eating washed or unwashed meat and poultry will cause inflammation in your body and you decide to eat them anyway, you are making a conscious choice. Choices have consequences. After reading this information you can say that you did not believe it, but you cannot say that you did not know.
If you are wondering what you would eat if you did not eat foods with high levels of dead bacterial endotoxins, try this easy Chickpea Mushroom Curry recipe for dinner, it gives a whole new meaning to the term “eating clean!”
Chickpea Mushroom Curry
Ingredients for 10 servings
- 1 pound chickpeas, dry (garbanzos)
- 1 pound potatoes
- 1 pound mushrooms, raw sliced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
- 2 tablespoon curry powder, mild, medium or hot depending on your taste
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 7 cups water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Soak dry beans overnight and throw away the soaking water. If you don’t have time to soak beans dry beans, cover them with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let the boiled beans soak for at least an hour to soften them up. Throw away the soaking water and cook according to the recipe directions. You can also use canned beans, but they are more expensive and may contain sodium and preservatives.
Stove Top Method
1. Sauté onions and garlic in water or vegetable stock in a large saucepan.
2. Add the soaked beans and the remaining ingredients to the pot with the water.
3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about an hour or until chickpeas are soft.
4. Mash some potatoes and peas to thicken the stew.
5. Add sea salt and pepper to taste.
If you are pressed for time, try the crock pot method. Set up your crock pot in the morning before leaving for work. Dinner will be ready when you get home and your house will smell like you have been cooking all day.
1. Add all the ingredients to the crock pot; use 5-6 cups instead of 7 cups of water.
2. Cover and cook on the high setting for 6-8 hours.
Serve the beans and mushrooms over brown Basmati rice with 2-3 cups of steamed broccoli and enjoy. Portion control tip: Divide into 10 servings straight from the pot. Give everyone a serving and freeze the unused servings for quick lunches or dinners during the week.
Calories: 236; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Protein: 12.5 g; Carbohydrates: 42.5gm; Fat: 2.9; Saturated fat: 0.07 gm; Sodium: 245 mg; Potassium: 891 mg; Dietary Fiber: 11.4 gm.
Dr. Jennifer Rooke is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine. She recently joined the faculty at Morehouse to start a lifestyle medicine clinic. Lifestyle Medicine is the use of interventions such as evidenced-based nutrition, physical activity and stress management to treat disease. Dr. Rooke has practiced medicine for over 27 years and is board certified in both Occupational Medicine and Public Health/Preventive Medicine. Dr. Rooke is a fellow of both the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Rooke serves as adjunct faculty in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University. Contact the author or visit her website www.advancedlifestylemedicine.com