It is the deaf chunks of raw chicken that force Rita Ross to rinse it in her kitchen sink before cooking it.
"There's this little movie between skin and meat that I don't like. It's kind of mucus," Ross, 63, of Raleigh, North Carolina, said. "I just think washing it cleaner."
The problem with rinsing raw chicken, however, is that instead of making it cleaner, it sprays potentially harmful bacteria on kitchen countertops and even another food that is already properly washed and ready to eat.
This is according to a study published on Tuesday by the Ministry of Agriculture.
"Many people prepare their salads around the sink so it's cross-contaminated," said Mindy Brashers, USDA's Deputy Secretary of Food Safety.
The USDA partnered with North Carolina State University to study how home cooks handle raw meat and how these practices affect food nearby.
Researchers hired 300 people to prepare chicken and salad in test kitchens in NC. Some participants watched food safety videos from time to time that stopped the rinsing of raw chicken. Most of these participants follow the advice.
But among the control group ̵
"How many times have you peeled a vegetable and put it in the sink and just take it and go on," Brashears said. "At this point you have contaminated your vegetables."
Microbiological horror stories "Wash" your chicken by soaking it in the sink, or just with water, or adding soap, vinegar or lemon juice.
"These are horrible microbiological stories," says Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and NC State professor Chapman said there was no good evidence that soaking raw chicken in vinegar and and lemon juice kills bacteria.
"What what surprised me the most was just how much cooking happens in and around the sink after someone washes the chicken, "he said. Often, participants rinse lettuce in a canister in the sink where they just had raw chicken.
Contaminated pool water is then sprayed on the lettuce. "We in the food safety community didn't really have a good understanding of this until the work we did here," Chapman says.
No one eats the food prepared in the studies. Investigators entered the test kitchens after cooking, tamping sinks and counters, finding them contaminated, even after participants cleaned them.
Spice containers also show signs of contamination.
The CDC estimates that 48 million people – every sixth – become ill with foodborne illness each year.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that most people associate with raw birds and causes about one million diseases in the US annually, according to the CDC. Most have diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps, and most recover, but nearly 400 die of Salmonella each year.
Another type of bacterium, campylobacter, is also found in raw or unprepared birds and numbers about 1.3 million diseases every year.
Even food safety experts are at risk. "I had a campylobacter about a decade ago," Chapman said. "I won't go into detail, but it wasn't fun at all."
"I've always seen my mother and dad do it."
The phenomenon of chicken washing is nothing new. In fact, this has been happening in the kitchen for decades.
"Growing up, I've always seen my mother and my father do it," says Ashley Williams, a 23-year-old student at New State.
The USDA and NC State recreated the study to illustrate their findings for NBC News. Both Williams and Ross were participants and they both rinsed their raw chicken.
"I've always done it this way," Ross said. "That's what people around me did when I was growing up. I took it from the culture."
And probably those decades of washing with chicken have caused diseases that have gone unreported.
"You probably got sick with food and I just don't know it," Brashears said. "People say, 'Oh, I had the flu,' and I never went to the doctor."
Children, the elderly and people with impaired immune systems are most at risk of nutritional diseases.
Food safety experts say it's critical to educate the next generation and get kids into the kitchen to teach them not only how to cook, but how to do it safely.
"Just because your mother did it doesn't mean you have to do it," said Brashears. "You can be the one who causes the change and stops the cycle of eating diseases."
risks of cross-contamination include:
- Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water, dry hands with paper cloth, then discard paper cloth
- Disinfect washbasins and kitchen counters before and after cooking 19659039] using a meat thermometer to make sure the chicken reaches 165 degrees
- using separate cutting boards and cutlery for raw meat and other food.
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