When I cook raw meat, especially chicken strips, I have it spread out on the chopping board with a few bags and containers of spice to the side. I don't actually use too many shakers for spice. Since my fingers can only hold so much spice at once, I often go back to the bag and grab some more and rub it on the meat. But this is after my fingers have touched the meat. Does this contaminate the spice in the bag or container?

Also, chefs on TV shows frequently make it that way, does this mean it is a safe practice?

  • 1
    For more on how to avoid contamination: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/68085/…
    – Stephie
    May 25, 2016 at 3:32
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    Hi Celeritas, your question is a duplicate of an older one which asked basically the same thing - but framing it as a critique on TV chefs who do this. I find your straightforward question better, so I merged the old one into this, and had to add a sentence about TV chefs at the end so the answers to the old one aren't completely out of place.
    – rumtscho
    May 25, 2016 at 9:39
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    Small contamination + growth medium (unpreserved food) + room temperature + time = sick people. Most all contaminations start small. People get sick from large contaminations. Your immune exists for a reason. This is why I get annoyed when some news network deals with a slow news day by making some unsuspecting mother cook with invisible fluorescent powder on her raw chicken only to horrify when they come in with a black light and illuminate every surface in the kitchen. No. This nonsense doesn't make you safer. I'd rather lick her walls than eat meticulously handled room temperature food. May 27, 2016 at 1:56

4 Answers 4


The bowl (and the salt/pepper) is contaminated if you touch it after touching raw chicken or any other unsafe food.

In fact, this is precisely why cooks and TV chefs mix it up in a little bowl first. They don't want to contaminate the entire container or even a perfectly good salt/pepper shaker.

They don't reuse the bowl afterward, they throw out any leftovers and toss the dish in the dishwasher. It's a convenient and safe way to season raw meat.

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    It is probably also worth remembering that those shows are heavily edited, so you may not see them wash their hands, but they do.
    – Cos Callis
    Jul 14, 2013 at 22:07
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    @CosCallis: No doubt, although if you're trying to do something like rub a steak or chicken breast, it's pretty inefficient to wash your hands every time you need a little more seasoning. They probably do "double dip" and wash their hands at the very end.
    – Aaronut
    Jul 14, 2013 at 23:22
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    I'm not sure about that. A salt cellar is not exactly the most habitable environment for most food-borne diseases, and some chefs don't bother with discarding the salt. That's not an endorsement of the practice, just an acceptance of fact. Also, when cooking for a show rather than real diners, sanitation is not necessarily of primary concern.
    – Ray
    Jul 15, 2013 at 0:32
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    @Ray: It's a valid point, although these same chefs generally do exactly the same thing for other spices, rubs, etc., which are definitely not antibacterial. Salt also doesn't kill absolutely everything (for example, raw chicken can also host norovirus or rotavirus). In the absence of strong evidence one way or the other, I'd prefer to believe that they don't reuse it and hope that none of their viewers take away the assumption that it's OK.
    – Aaronut
    Jul 27, 2013 at 16:48
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    You can use contaminated spices as long as they are cooked to a high enough temperature and soon enough.
    – GdD
    May 25, 2016 at 15:04

Yes, that'll contaminate your spices. You really don't want to touch anything after touching raw meat, unless it's something you're about to wash or cook.

It's not too hard to avoid this though. You can keep a clean hand and a dirty hand - grab spices with the clean one, rub them in with the other. As Joe points out, this is also helpful if you end up needing to do anything else, like grabbing another spice, stirring something on the stove, looking at a recipe, or answering your phone.

You might also be able to use a spoon, but you'll want to be careful not to let the part of the handle that you touch also touch your spice containers, which might be more trouble than it's worth.

If you're using multiple spices, it's also often a good idea to just mix what you'll need ahead of time. If it's in a bowl just for this meat, you don't have to worry about contaminating it.

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    I try to stick with the clean hand / dirty hand as much as possible. The clean hand is my primary hand (ie, the one that holds the knife), and the dirty hand holds the food while I'm cutting. It also means that I have a clean hand should the phone ring.
    – Joe
    May 25, 2016 at 14:59
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    Mixing ahead of time has another benefit: the mix is more even (sprinkling each part individually could leave you with a salty area and a spicy area). For mixes of dry ingredients, you can save time by mixing a jar full and tipping out what you need into a pinch bowl each time you cook.
    – Chris H
    May 26, 2016 at 6:29

As far as salt goes, it was used as a food preservative for 100's of years. Cellular organisms that are transferred from the cooks hand to the salt bowl die quickly. There is an osmotic affect where the cell and the salt dish want to be at the same salinity level. The cell will then let all of its water out trying to dilute the salt. It dehydrates and dies.

With that said most of the cooks are just following cue cards and will throw out all remaining items at the end of show. They don't even set up the ingredients. They may check it over after initial setup but they usually have staff that have to do that.

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    Remember that bacteria produce toxins. Neither cooking thoroughly nor salt will do anything to reduce toxins. Food storage Temps are essential: <40 if uncooked or >140 degrees cooked (Fahrenheit) will slow or kill bacteria, thus reducing the production of toxins. Increased final cooked temps are required for poultry, pork and some seafood.
    – user44375
    Mar 20, 2016 at 20:14
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    In addition to toxins, you may have food particles which allow bacteria to grow for a period of time (before the salt has time to dry out the food particle entirely).
    – Joe M
    May 25, 2016 at 14:51
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    Also this doesn't apply at all to things besides salt. (I know the question this answer was originally posted on did focus on salt, but it also mentioned pepper, so I don't think this was ever a really comprehensive answer.)
    – Cascabel
    May 25, 2016 at 18:24

A high salt environment kills EVERYTHING that lives. including bacteria and germs.

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    Surely "germs" covers bacteria (already mentioned) and viruses (not living, and not killed by salt)? Jul 19, 2013 at 9:31
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    If it kills everything id be more worried about touching the salt.
    – marsh
    May 25, 2016 at 12:56
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    Well it does. Try drinking sea water. Or a bottle of soy sauce. Compared to bacteria you are fairly big. Need a bit more than a pinch of salt to kill you. The problem with this answer isn't that it's wrong. It's that it doesn't tell you how to use this information in relation to the questions problem. May 27, 2016 at 1:42

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