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Should you wash chicken wings with vinegar?

Washing chicken before cooking is a common practice for many home cooks. Some people wash chicken to try to remove bacteria that could cause foodborne illness. Others believe washing makes the chicken cleaner or fresher. When it comes to chicken wings, a popular appetizer and party food, some cooks wash them with vinegar. But is this necessary or recommended?

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to common questions about washing chicken wings with vinegar:

  • No, washing raw chicken with vinegar is not recommended. Vinegar does not kill bacteria on raw chicken.
  • Washing raw chicken with any liquid can spread bacteria around the kitchen and onto other surfaces, hands, utensils, etc. This increases the risk of food poisoning.
  • Cooking chicken thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F kills bacteria, including Salmonella. Proper cooking is more effective than washing.
  • If washing chicken, vinegar or lemon juice may help remove some bacteria but does not fully sanitize the chicken or eliminate the risk.
  • It’s best to skip washing chicken and focus on safe handling, preventing cross-contamination, and proper cooking.

Does Washing Chicken Remove Bacteria?

Many people think rinsing or soaking raw chicken in vinegar will help remove bacteria like Salmonella from the surface. However, this is not an effective food safety method. Here are some key points about washing chicken with vinegar:

  • Vinegar does not kill or remove enough bacteria to make raw chicken safe to eat or handle. Any remaining bacteria can quickly multiply.
  • Even if vinegar reduces bacterial counts, chicken should still be cooked thoroughly to 165°F internal temperature, the temperature needed to kill pathogens.
  • Research shows washing chicken spreads bacteria around the kitchen through splashing and droplets, increasing contamination risk.
  • Chemicals like chlorine can reduce bacteria on chicken when used in commercial processing plants. However, vinegar and lemon juice do not sanitize chicken when used in home kitchens.

CDC and USDA Recommendations

Due to the risks of cross-contamination, the CDC and USDA advise against washing raw chicken:

  • The USDA says washing raw poultry is not recommended because bacteria can spread to kitchen surfaces or utensils.
  • The CDC recommends against washing meat and poultry as it is not an effective sanitation method.
  • Food safety experts advise skipping any rinsing, soaking, or washing of raw chicken. This includes using vinegar.
  • Proper handling and cooking are the best ways to prevent foodborne illness from chicken.

Safe Handling Tips

Instead of washing chicken wings, follow these food safety guidelines when handling them:

  • Store chicken in sealed packaging at 40°F or below until ready to cook.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap before and after handling raw chicken.
  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw chicken to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Thoroughly cook wings to 165°F internal temperature, checking with a food thermometer.
  • Discard marinades used on raw chicken wings before baking or grilling.
  • Refrigerate cooked wings within 2 hours and eat within 3-4 days.

How to Clean Chicken Wings

While rinsing chicken wings is not recommended, you can gently pat them dry with paper towels just before cooking. Here’s how:

  1. Take wings out of the packaging. Do not rinse or soak in water or vinegar.
  2. Use paper towels to pat wings dry and remove any excess moisture on the surface.
  3. Discard used paper towels and wash hands before moving on with recipe prep.
  4. Cook wings thoroughly to 165°F internal temperature.

This light patting removes moisture without spreading bacteria around like washing in vinegar or water can.

Vinegar for Marinades and Sauces

While washing chicken in vinegar is not recommended, you can use vinegar safely in:

  • Marinades – Marinate chicken wings in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Discard used marinade.
  • Sauces – Simmer chicken wing sauce mixtures containing vinegar to a rolling boil before using as a dip or drizzle.
  • Dressings – Only use dressings containing vinegar after the wings are fully cooked.

These methods allow the vinegar to impart flavor while ensuring food safety.

Is Washing Harmful?

Washing chicken wings with vinegar, water, lemon juice or other liquids is not directly dangerous or harmful if the chicken is cooked thoroughly afterward. However, there are some risks:

  • Increased bacteria spread – Washing splashes bacteria onto surfaces, increasing contamination.
  • False sense of security – Washing may give a false sense that raw chicken is cleaner than it is.
  • Water diluting chlorine – Rinsing chicken may dilute the chlorine or other antimicrobial rinses used during processing.
  • Recontamination – Chicken can be recontaminated with bacteria during extended washing or soaking.

While not overtly dangerous, washing chicken does make safe handling and cooking more challenging. Following proper procedures without washing is best.

What About Using Lemon Juice?

Like vinegar, washing chicken wings with lemon juice is not recommended. Lemon juice has some antimicrobial properties, but does not significantly reduce bacteria on raw chicken when used at home.

Acids like lemon juice may reduce bacterial counts slightly, but not to safe levels. Chicken wings should still be handled carefully and cooked thoroughly after lemon juice washing.

For safety and best results, skip soaking chicken wings in lemon juice. Use lemons in marinades, sauces and dressings that are added after cooking.


Washing raw chicken wings with vinegar, water, lemon juice or other liquids is not recommended. These methods create risks by spreading bacteria around the kitchen.

Cooking wings thoroughly to 165°F internal temperature is the only way to reliably kill bacteria like Salmonella. Skip the wash and focus your efforts on safe handling, preventing cross-contamination, proper cooking, and refrigeration.

Washing Method Removes Bacteria? Increases Contamination Risk? Recommended?
Water No Yes No
Vinegar No Yes No
Lemon Juice No Yes No
Cooking to 165°F Yes No Yes

For safe enjoyment of delicious chicken wings, skip the wash and head straight to flavorful marinades, rubs and sauces after careful handling and thorough cooking.