Last month, Twitter user HerBigHomie reignited a long-standing food preparation debate: It it safe to season chicken in the kitchen sink? It’s a common enough practice in many households that some people don’t think twice about it. But as many people responding to the tweet pointed out, there’s a lot of disgusting stuff that goes down the drain. Inverse asked UC Davis’ Linda J. Harris, Ph.D., a specialist in food safety, to answer the question once and for all.
It came as news to Harris that people season chicken in the sink, but there’s no shortage of online proof that it happens. Twitter users, after all, are very vocal about being in either the pro-sink or why-not-use-a-fucking-bowl? camp. Both sides have staunch supporters. Last year, sink-seasoning advocate Auntie Fee uploaded a delightfully profane how-to video to YouTube. It’s since been viewed over 1.7 million times.
On sink-seasoning meat, Harris is less concerned about contaminating the chicken than she is about contaminating everything else. “At least the chicken will be cooked,” she tells Inverse. Any bacteria the meat is carrying — or picks up from a dirty sink — won’t survive the oven or deep fryer. But the pathogens can survive pretty much anywhere else.
“For the same reason we discourage washing poultry prior to cooking, this would be considered a risky practice,” she says. While washing raw chicken may seem more sanitary, she says, it actually makes it easier for microorganisms to spread from the chicken to dishtowels, the countertop, hands, and yes — the sink. Pathogens don’t necessarily have to live on food to get you sick.
HerBigHomie understands that keeping surfaces clean is the only way to season meat in the sink safely. “For my stainless steel sink, I keep it clean using dish detergent, baking soda, vinegar, and warm water,” he tells Inverse.
Harris agrees that, in theory, a completely clean sink would be safe to use for meat preparation. But achieving that is hard to guarantee, as this Twitter user pointed out.
“Washing that sink will lead to potential aerosols and spread of the contamination,” she says. “Introducing a dish cloth will now contaminate the dish cloth, potentially spreading microorganisms everywhere.” She’s not saying that you shouldn’t clean it — just that there are safer ways to go about it. Using a dilute bleach solution to kill bugs and disposable paper towels is a good start.
Non-typhoidal Salmonella poisoning is still a big public health risk, causing painful diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that can last from four to seven days that leads to 19,000 hospitalizations each year. Ultimately, nobody can tell you whether or not to use your sink as a bowl, but if you’re going to go that route, just remember to keep that raw chicken juice contained.