Murphy: To Wash, or Not to Wash?

We know all about the younger generation’s “sensitivity” to raw meat, which was the basis of a recent column in this space (“Generation Snowflake,” click here) concerning the retail trend to market beef, pork and poultry that can go right from the package to the pan without (ick!) anyone having to endure human contact with the product.

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the UK supermarket chain Sainsburys has introduced this new packaging “to help squeamish Millennials who are afraid to touch raw meat before cooking it.”

That phobia is apparently now a thing, because it was recently the topic of discussion on a Canadian talk show called “The Social,” which airs weekday afternoons on CTV and is loosely patterned after the American show “The View:” a brash moderator and a bunch of quasi-celebrity panelists opining with more conviction than credibility on whatever subject that arises during the show.

Recently, in yammering about these new straight-to-the-stove packages that prevent sensitive Millennials from having to touch raw food, the subject of sanitation arose following a statement by co-host Marci Ien (sic), the only Black person on the panel.

Her admission? She washes her meat before cooking it.

The discussion quickly morphed into a racial issue, since Ms. Marci was the only one among the panelists who washes her meat prior to cooking.

“Her fellow non-Black co-hosts were actually astonished when Marci broke down her in-depth meat cleaning routine that involves rinsing your chicken or meat of choice with water and using lemon,” according to the story on the BET.com website. The story quoted Marci asking the other panelists, “Hold on. Does anybody wash their meat? Maybe it’s a West Indian thing.”

Skipping the Wash Cycle
The article went on to assess the “cultural divide” around washing meat.

But is that really accurate?

I’ll admit that after a couple days in the fridge, a previously opened package of hot dogs can get kind of slimy, and I’ll rinse them off before cooking them.

That’s not cultural; that’s common sense.

The BET.com story then examined whether pre-washing is a good idea for food, if not laundry.

Actually … no.

Those who’ve been immersed in the ongoing evolution of government food-safety regulations know that official USDA policy discourages the washing of raw meat prior to cooking. The issue isn’t so much that rinsing meat is ineffective in removing surface bacteria, it’s more so that the use of running water tends to increase the possibility of cross-contamination of cutting boards, counters and kitchen utensils.

“Water can splash bacteria up to three feet surrounding a sink, which can lead to illnesses,” the article quoted Marianne Gravely, a staff person in USDA’s Food Safety Education department. Gravely noted that research done at Drexel University in Philadelphia demonstrated that the safest way to handle raw meat or poultry is to take the cuts directly from the package to the stove or grill, where the cooking temperatures will kill any pathogens that may be present on the product.

But you know what that means? Those super-sensitive Millennials got it right. It is better to buy meat in package-to-the-pan bags.

Only they’re trying to avoid contact, not contamination.

It’s emblematic of the trend towards convenience masquerading as safety that someday soon the bake-in-the-bag package will be the only option.

Feel free, however, to remove said products from those high-tech packages and give ’em a good, long washing.

Such extra effort will never be a “cultural” thing.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

 

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