World TB Day

March 24th is World TB Day, marking the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB). Dr. Koch’s discovery was the most important step taken toward the prevention and control of this deadly disease. Learn how new tests, shorter treatment regimens, and a focus on latent TB infection will help end TB in the U.S.

We do occasionally respond to active TB cases in Malheur County. More often we respond to reports of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). Our Communicable Disease staff work with patients and health care providers to follow treatment protocol for both active and latent TB infections. In the United States, up to 13 million people may have latent TB infection. Without treatment, on average 1 in 10 people with latent TB infection will get sick with TB disease in the future. The risk is higher for people with HIV, diabetes, or other conditions that affect the immune system.

World TB Day is an opportunity to recognize our achievements in TB prevention and control and renew our commitment to eliminating this devastating disease in the United States. Clinicians, health care agencies, and community organizations, especially those serving populations at risk, have a critical role in TB elimination. Learn more from the CDC.

Five healthy habits net more healthy years

Are healthy habits worth cultivating? One recent study and a previous similar study suggest healthy habits may help people tack on years of life and sidestep serious illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer. 

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that five low-risk lifestyle habits are critical for a longer life expectancy. The more of these habits people had, the longer they lived.

Five habits to change your life:

  • a healthy diet, which was calculated and rated based on reports of regularly eating healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and avoiding less healthy or unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and excess sodium
  • a healthy physical activity level, measured as at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity, like brisk walking
  • healthy body weight, defined as a normal body mass index (BMI), which is between 18.5 and 24.9
  • never smoking, because there is no healthy amount of smoking
  • low-risk alcohol intake, measured as between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. Generally, one drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. That’s 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Even if they had only one of these habits, participants lived two years longer than if they had none. And if by age 50 they regularly practiced all five, women lived an extra 14 years and men lived an extra 12. That’s over a decade of extra life!

Steps for a longer, healthier life

If you’re approaching middle age, you can take steps to enjoy a longer and healthier life, one with a lower chance of becoming disabled or ending up in a nursing home:

  1. Eat mostly plants, most of the time. That means fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Avoid eating fast or fried foods, sweets and sugary beverages, and red and processed meats (like cold cuts) as much as possible.
  2. Move your body every day as much as you can. Walking for 30 minutes a day (15 in the morning, 15 in the evening, maybe?) would give you the benefits these researchers found. But even as little as 10 minutes of movement per week has been shown to have health benefits.
  3. Do the best you can to get to a healthy weight. And remember, even a little bit of weight loss, just a few pounds, is associated with real, positive health outcomes, like a lower risk of diabetes in people at risk.
  4. Quit smoking — or vaping! Though this particular study looked at never having smoked, we know that there are significant health benefits to quitting at any time. It’s never too late to quit and enjoy a healthier life.
  5. If you drink any alcohol, keep the recommended limits in mind: one drink per day max for women, two drinks per day max for men.

Article adapted from Harvard Health Publishing, Monique Tello, MD, MPH

New SMART Recovery Support Group Time

In an effort to make our SMART Recovery meetings more convenient for more people, we have moved our Thursday groups to 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Malheur County Health Department, 1108 SW 4th Street, Ontario, Oregon.

SMART Recovery uses tools based on scientifically tested methods for addiction recovery, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior and Motivational Interviewing. SMART Recovery support meetings are free and open to anyone seeking science-based, self-empowered addiction recovery. People who are suffering from addiction, as well as their family and friends, or people who want to help others in their community are welcome. At meetings, participants help one another resolve problems with any addiction. Participants find and develop the power within themselves to change and lead fulfilling and balanced lives.

Share the flyer, follow our Events Calendar, and call us at 541-889-7279 with any questions.

Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Strategies and Resources

Our public health nurses find ways to prioritize cardiovascular disease prevention in their practice of health promotion at the Malheur County Health Department. Learn with us to prevent heart attacks and strokes through the Million Hearts Collaboration.

As a voice for public health nurses, the Association of Public Health Nurses (APHN) has been part of the Million Hearts Collaboration since 2015. This collaboration consists of national organizations that are committed to the Million Hearts goal of preventing ONE MILLION heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. in the next 5 years. In Malheur County, we want to do our part with the community and other healthcare providers to advance key messages that could save lives. A great tool of the Million Hearts Collaboration is the ABCS of Heart Health.

ABCS of Heart Health

Every year, Americans suffer more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes.

The good news is that you can help reduce your risk and improve your heart health by following the ABCS!

  • A: Take aspirin as directed by your health care professional.
  • B: Control your blood pressure.
  • C: Manage your cholesterol.
  • S: Don’t smoke.

What are the ABCS of heart health?

A: Take aspirin as directed by your health care professional.

Ask your health care professional if aspirin can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Be sure to tell your health care professional if you have a family history of heart disease or stroke, and mention your own medical history.

B: Control your blood pressure.

Blood pressure measures the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. If your blood pressure stays high for a long time, you may suffer from high blood pressure (also called hypertension).

High blood pressure increases your risk for heart attack or stroke more than any other risk factor. Find out what your blood pressure numbers are, and ask your health care professional what those numbers mean for your health. If you have high blood pressure, work with your health care professional to lower it.

C: Manage your cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver and found in certain foods. Your body needs cholesterol, but when you have too much, it can build up in your arteries and cause heart disease.

There are different types of cholesterol: One type is “good” and can protect you from heart disease, but another type is “bad” and can increase your risk. Talk to your health care professional about cholesterol and how to lower your bad cholesterol if it’s too high.

S: Don’t smoke.

Smoking raises your blood pressure, which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. If you smoke, quit. Talk with your health care professional about ways to help you stick with your decision. It’s never too late to quit smoking. Visit or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW today.

Learn more at the CDC website Prevent Heart Disease.

Thanks to our public health nurses for sharing! Reach out to us at 541-889-7279 for more information on the ways our programs can educate, screen, and refer you and your family to the care you need.

Spotlight on Malheur County WIC Program

Welcome to the Malheur County WIC Program

About Us:

The Women, Infants, Children (WIC) Program is a public health nutrition program that serves low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, and children up to the age of five.

The vison of the Oregon WIC program is to ensure optimal nutrition and lifelong health for every Oregon family. We provide families with access to healthy foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding guidance, free health screenings and referrals to other health services.

To apply for services, just call us at (541) 889-7279!

We support families by offering:

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding guidance
  • Nutritious foods
  • Nutrition-focused counseling
  • Free health screenings
  • Connections to resources

To be eligible, you must:

  • Live in Oregon.
  • Be a pregnant, postpartum or breastfeeding woman, an infant or a child under 5 years old.
  • Have a household income less than 185% of the federal poverty limit. (Individuals who can prove Fully eligible for Medicaid/Oregon Health Plan, TANF, SNAP/Food Stamps or FDPIR are automatically income eligible for WIC.)
  • Have a nutritional need or risk.

Income Eligibility Criteria (Effective May 2022):

Farm Direct Nutrition Program:

Once a year we provide access to the Oregon Farm Direct Nutrition Program which is a state administered, federal nutrition program serving families enrolled in WIC and income-eligible seniors. Farm Direct participants receive additional benefits to spend on fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables from authorized farmers within our community.

Minimizing Barriers and Providing Equitable Care

  • We strive to maintain a welcoming and trauma-informed work environment that reflects and supports the racial and ethnic diversity of our participants, partners and community.
  • Provide nutritious foods to help minimize food insecurity for our most vulnerable and at-risk populations
  • Minimizes barriers to services by offering remote options when available
  • Use of Electronic Bank Transfer (eBT) cards for easier shopping and reduced stigma of services
  • Provide hand off referrals to other available services within the community
  • Services and materials are available in languages of our population served and ability to provide interpreted services and translated materials for non-English speaking families

Program Goals:

  • Increase number of families served in Malheur County.
  • Increase the number of infants exclusively breastfed for 6 months.
  • Maintain children on the program from infancy through age 5 to optimize health outcomes.
  • Provide families with education and resources to spend all their FDNP vouchers before the end of the annual WIC Farmers Market season.

Contact Us:

Additional Resources:

Oregon will lift mask requirement for health care settings April 3

Workers, patients and visitors in health care settings will no longer be required to wear masks starting April 3, 2023, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) announced today.

OHA is rescinding provisions in Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 333-019-1011 that require workers in health care settings – such as hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices, school-based health centers, complementary and alternative medicine locations – to wear masks. This includes the Malheur County Health Department clinic. The requirement has been in effect since August 2021.

In addition, Executive Order 22-24 will expire on March 6, 2023. The emergency gave hospitals needed flexibility to respond to a surge in respiratory infections, including COVID-19, RSV and influenza.

The decision to end statewide health care mask requirements aligns with decisions in other states, including Washington.

Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA, said the lifting of Oregon’s health care mask requirement stems from data in recent weeks showing overall decreases in circulation of the three respiratory pathogens that triggered a surge in visits to hospital emergency departments and intensive care units last fall. As of today, COVID-19 test positivity is at 10% and is expected to continue dropping; influenza test positivity is at 1.2%; and RSV test positivity is at 1.6% (antigen tests) and 3.5% (molecular tests).

The month-long lead-up to the ending of Oregon’s health care mask requirement gives the health care system, local public health authorities and other health partners time to prepare for the change, including adjusting policies, training and procedures that ensure continued patient safety and access. It also gives members of the public, particularly populations at increased risk of severe disease—communities of color, tribal communities, rural communities, lower-income communities, those with underlying medical conditions, seniors, and parents of vulnerable infants – a chance to plan health care visits and protective measures.

People at higher risk for severe disease, or who live with someone at higher risk, should still consider wearing masks in health care or any settings, to better protect themselves and those most vulnerable around them. Some health care settings may continue to require masks even after the requirement is lifted.

Masks remain an effective way to reduce transmission of respiratory viruses. People are recommended to wear masks when they are sick, and individuals – particularly those with health conditions that put them at high risk for severe illness from a respiratory virus exposure–should continue to wear masks wherever they feel comfortable.

In order to protect themselves and their families and communities, people are strongly encouraged to stay up to date with vaccinations and boosters.

OHA Press Release here.

March 4th is International HPV Awareness Day

Almost all of us will have HPV at some point and while for most of us it isn’t harmful, HPV is linked to several kinds of cancer. There is a vaccine that can prevent HPV infection and prevent most HPV related cancers. The Malheur County Health Department has the HPV vaccine and has many appointment times available throughout the week for immunizations. HPV vaccine is recommended for routine vaccination at age 11 or 12 years. (Vaccination can be started at age 9.)  CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) also recommends vaccination for everyone through age 26 years if not adequately vaccinated when younger.

The International HPV Awareness Campaign is a key initiative of the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) which aims to increase public awareness of the virus as part of their mission to improve understanding of HPV and the importance of prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of papillomavirus-related diseases.

Educating ourselves and others about HPV and cancer is the first step to reducing our risk. Find out more about the public information resources available to help spread the word. Below are answers to frequently asked questions about HPV.

What is HPV?

HPV means “human papillomavirus”. It’s a very common virus. 8 out of 10 men and women will get it at some point. Lots of people have never heard of it, but HPVs are a very big family of viruses.

There are around 200 types of HPV. Some types of HPV are transmitted by sexual contact and infect the skin cells of the genital region and the mouth and throat. Most cause no harm. But some HPVs cause warts and some can cause cancers. Both men and women get cancer from HPV, and rates are accelerating fastest in men. These cancers include cervical cancer and cancer of the penis, anus, vagina, vulva, and throat.

How can I avoid getting HPV?

HPV is a common virus and avoiding it can be difficult. About 8 out of 10 sexually active people get at least one genital HPV infection at some point in their lives! But there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk:

  1. The best way to prevent HPV is to be vaccinated at the recommended age. Get vaccinated to prevent HPV infection if you are eligible for the vaccine, or if your health care provider thinks you might benefit from it. Vaccination can prevent 90% of cervical and anal cancers and most other cancers caused by HPV. The vaccine is most effective if given before you have any sexual contact. Talk to your healthcare provider or call our office at 541-889-7279 to schedule an appointment.
  2. Use condoms whenever you can. Consistent condom use can reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of getting HPV. This is because HPV is passed on by skin-to-skin contact. Condoms only partially protect the skin of the genital region. The more consistent the use of condoms, the higher the amount of protection. Condom use 100% of the time reduces the risk of spreading HPV by about 70%. Less consistent use means less protection.
  3. The fewer sexual partners you or your partner have, the lower your risk of getting HPV.

I’ve had the HPV vaccine – do I still need to be screened?

The vaccine reduces your risk of HPV-related cancers by about 90%. But even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you still need to have cervical screening. This is because the vaccine will not protect you against HPV types that you may have acquired before being vaccinated. In addition, you might still get infected after vaccination with the rarer HPV types that can cause cancer but which are not covered by the vaccine.

I’m a boy – do I need to know about HPV?

Yes—you are at risk for HPV and the cancers that it causes. HPV can cause genital warts as well as cancers of the anus, penis and mouth/throat in men. You can also spread HPV to your sexual partners. All of the currently available vaccines prevent infection with HPV types that cause most HPV-related cancers, and some vaccines also protect against the types that cause genital warts. The most important step you can take to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated before you have sex.

We CAN eliminate HPV and create one less worry for our world. Learn more here.

Public Health Modernization

Public health across the nation, Oregon, and in Malheur County has been changing. Local public health is experiencing a significant period of transformation. Individuals and families flourish when communities are safe and healthy and when everyone has the opportunity to thrive. The Malheur County Health Department is a key partner in making this happen locally. We work behind the scenes to protect and support our diverse communities so that people can prosper and live fulfilling lives. We are able to do this through Public Health Modernization, a framework that ensures all people and communities in Oregon have the same level of protection and support from our public health system.

Years of reduced state funding made it challenging for local public health authorities (LPHAs) to provide these services. Lack of funding means LPHAs have less staff to do this important work in their communities. Public Health Modernization is also a policy that ensures LPHAs across Oregon have the resources to protect and serve their communities.

We are changing the way we do business to ensure that our team has the skills and resources necessary to work across sectors, to question why health inequality exists, to make data-driven decisions, and to think strategically about how to engage the community to create conditions for health, safety, and equity.

Oregon is a leader in its innovative approach to health system transformation, which aims to provide better health and better care at a lower cost. Public health should support Oregon’s health system in shifting its focus to prevention of disease.

We need a health system that integrates public health, health care and community-level health improvement efforts to achieve a high standard of overall health for all Oregonians, regardless of income, race, ethnicity or geographic location. To achieve this, we must stimulate innovation and integration among public health, health systems and communities to increase coordination and reduce duplication.

2010 Oregon’s Action Plan for Health

Public health modernization ensures Oregon’s public health system will be well-prepared and able to meet this charge. A modernized public health system will provide core public health functions and maintain the flexibility needed to focus on new health challenges, which include emerging infectious diseases, climate change, threats from man-made and natural disasters, and an increase in chronic diseases.

The current Malheur County Health Department Priorities and Key Activities for Public Health Modernization:


  • Plan for and prevents communicable and environmental threats.
  • Eliminate health inequities by 2030.

Key Activities

  • Create and implement four plans:
    a. Climate Adaptation Plan
    b. All Hazards Plan
    c. Health Equity Plan
    d. Strategic Plan
  • Establish new positions focused on Community Engagement, Health Equity, and Environmental Public Health.
  • Expand existing positions for Communicable Disease and Communications.
  • Implement Health Equity Lens across all programs.
  • Build meaningful community partnerships through Malheur County Health Equity Conference and ongoing collaboration.

For more information, visit the Modernization websites from the Oregon Health Authority and the Coalition of Local Health Officials.

Please contact Kyle Sorensen, Modernization & Outreach Supervisor, at, Sarah Poe, Director, at, or call our office at 541-889-7279. We hope to make more connections with community based organizations, health care and social service providers, and individuals to volunteer and advocate for change.

Find the mental health support you need

If you’re experiencing stress, grief, political anxiety, loneliness, chronic health problems, financial uncertainty or any stressors, it’s normal to feel low or unsure of how to get help. Mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, worsen under these conditions.

Reaching out for help is a good first step to feeling better, and you may find it difficult to speak up and ask for support when you need it. Fortunately, there are many ways to connect with people, no matter what’s troubling you.

If you or someone you know feels hopeless or like they have no reason to live, call 988 for help and support. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. 

General resources if you’re not sure where to start

  • Call or text 988 or chat at to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Trained crisis counselors can help you or a loved one with any kind of mental health-related distress, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, or substance use crisis. Learn more here. Spanish speakers can call 988 and press 2, or call 888-628-9454 directly to reach la Red Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio.
  • Oregon’s Behavioral Health Support Line offers 24/7 behavioral health screening, counseling services and referrals to available mental health and substance use providers for ongoing care. Callers do not need to be in a crisis to contact the line. Call 800-923-HELP (4357).
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline – Oregon offers free online support groups, resources, classes and connection groups. Call 800-343-6264, Mon. to Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Peer Galaxy is an online portal to hundreds of online and in-person support groups in Oregon. Check out their calendar of events.
  • Community Counseling Solutions offers free phone support from the David Romprey Oregon Warmline, for anyone. Call 800-698-2392 daily, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Looking for other crisis lines, recovery resources and services for specific communities? Visit the “Get Help Now” page on Lines for Life’s website for a full list.

Domestic and sexual violence

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24/7 support via phone, text, or live chat. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “Start” to 88788TTY 800-787-3224. ASL Video phone support is available at 855-812-1001. Support services for Native American and Alaska Native survivors are available 24/7 by phone or text at 844-7NATIVE (844-762-8483).
  • Call to Safety Crisis Line supports all domestic violence survivors, as well as friends, family and community members who care. Call 503-235-5333 or 888-235-5333. Translations available in any language.
  • The Healing Circle hotline is part of NAYA Family Center (Native American Youth Association) and “works to reinforce the fact that domestic violence is not, nor ever has been, a traditional Native American value.” Call 503-288-8177 ext. 339.


  • Trans Lifeline Hotline is a peer support phone service run by trans people for our trans and questioning peers. Call 877-565-8860 daily, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. PST. Volunteers may be available in off hours. Family and friends of a trans loved one in crisis can call the main number and ask for the Family and Friends Line.
  • The Trevor Project offers 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQIA2S+ youth. Call 866-488-7386 or text 678-678. You can also call 988 and press 3 for LGBTQIA2S+ youth and young adults support. 
  • SAGE National LGBTQ+ Elder Hotline connects LGBTQ+ older people (or their caregivers) who want to talk with friendly responders who are ready to listen. Call 877-360-LGBT (5428), 24/7. Available in English and Spanish. 

Health care workers 

Veterans and their families

  • Veterans Crisis Line provides free and confidential 24/7 support for veterans and their loved ones, regardless of VA benefits enrollment. Dial 988 and press 1, or text 838-255.
  • The Lines for Life Military Helpline offers free 24/7 help and hope to all military-connected community members, including family, friends and caregivers of veterans. Call 888-457-4838.
  • Dual Diagnosis Anonymous Veterans weekly meetings provide a safe venue to be open about depression, post-traumatic stress, alcohol and drug use, abuse and addiction. Meetings are weekly, in-person or online. Call 503-222-6484.
  • National Call Center for Homeless Veterans offers 24/7 support for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Call 1-877-424-3838.


  • Reach Out Oregon warmline provides mental, behavioral and emotional support for parents. Call 833-732-2467, Mon. to Fri., noon to 7 p.m. 
  • Postpartum Support International (PSI) refers parents to appropriate local resources in English and Spanish. Call 800-944-4PPD (4773).
  • Looking Glass Community Services (based in Eugene) operates a 24/7 crisis line for parents of children up to age 18 to call when their child is having an immediate mental health, emotional or behavioral crisis. If necessary, crisis responders can deploy a two-person team to the family home to respond directly to the crisis. Short-term respite for children is also available. Call 888-989-9990.


  • The Senior Loneliness Line of Oregon is a free, statewide 24/7 call service for Oregonians 55 and older. Call 503-200-1633 or 800-282-7035.
  • Safe + Strong lists multiple support resources for seniors, including COVID-19 care and resources, peer outreach services, depression management and counseling, and support for older people with disabilities.

Communities of color

Youth and families

  • Oregon YouthLine is a teen-to-teen crisis and help line. Call 877-968-8491 or text teen2teen to 839-863. Trained teens are available to help daily, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. (adults are also available 24/7).
  • Mobile Response and Stabilization Services (MRSS) are available in each county for children, youth and young adults (through age 20) and their families or caregivers to provide in-person, face-to-face crisis response. When someone calls 988 or their Community Mental Health Program (CMHP) local crisis line, a crisis counselor will link them to MRSS if they need it.
  • Safe + Strong lists multiple support resources for youth, teens and families.
  • Oregon Alliance to Prevent Suicide is dedicated to preventing youth and young adults in Oregon from dying by suicide. Call 503-399-7201 for more information (not a crisis hotline).
  • The Dougy Center provides grief support in a safe place where children, teens, young adults and their families can share their experiences before and after a death. Call 503-775-5683 in the Portland area, or search the center’s worldwide directory for help near you.
  • For LGBTQIA2S+ youth:
    • Safe + Strong lists multiple resources for LGBTQIA2S+
    • Local PFLAG groups in Oregon – provides in-person and virtual peer to peer support.
    • New Avenues for Youth Alba Collaborative can help you find support any time, day or night. Its Youth Opportunity Center in Rockwood is open 24/7 for youth ages 9-17 in crisis, or who need a safe place to stay. Call 971-754-4350.
    • Outside In (Portland) welcomes and encourage all from the LGBTQIA2S+ community to connect, feel seen and heard, and provides free resources such as counseling, medical services and wraparound support for homeless youth and other marginalized people who meet diagnostic criteria. Call 503-535-3828.

Substance use disorders

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers free and confidential treatment referral and information for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Call 800-662-HELP (4357) 24/7 for English and Spanish, TTY: 800-487-4889 for hearing or speech impaired.
  • Dual Diagnosis Anonymous offers online and in-person support groups in Oregon for those experiencing both mental health and substance use disorders. Call 503-222-6484.
  • Outside In’s Injection Drug Users Health Services promotes health and healing for people who are using injection drugs. Naloxone available. Call 503-535-3826In-person or online support meetings available.
  • Oregon’s Alcohol & Drug Helpline assists those struggling with substance use and can provide referrals to local resources for peer support and treatment. Call 800-923-4357 24/7, or text Recovery Now to 839863.


  • The Global Healthy Living Foundation offers a free COVID-19 support program for people who have chronic diseases and their families. 
  • Immune Deficiency Foundation offers connection groups and peer support programs to those with primary immunodeficiency diseases.

Eating disorders

Article adapted from Oregon Health News Blog.

Washing Chicken Spreads Germs

At our last all-staff meeting, Registered Nurse MaryLue Galligar shared great tips on food safety, including the CDC recommendation to not rinse raw chicken before cooking. We had cases of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections in our county in the last year. As a precaution, we recommend reviewing the following information from a Public Health Insider interview with Dr. Eyob Mazengia, who specializes in food safety.

Q: Let’s start with something that’s received a lot of controversy recently – food safety guidance from the CDC says to not wash raw chicken before cooking because it could spread bacteria throughout your kitchen. Many people learned to wash chicken from their parents and grandparents, who didn’t get sick from the practice. Are you saying those family cooking methods are wrong?

EM: No! This is an example of cooking practices changing as our food system has changed.

The practice of washing raw chicken may have developed in a context when people were typically eating chicken they raised themselves, or bought live from a local market.

Today in the US, most chickens are raised on very large farms and come into contact with many other chickens, which increases the spread of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria. During processing, the meat passes through many different steps, which increases the risk for exposure to bacteria. All this means that the chicken you buy in the store are more likely to carry bacteria that can make you sick if handled improperly. In addition, the widespread use of antibiotics in farming has led to an increase in “multi-drug resistant” forms of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria that are harder to treat.

Q: Do you think buying organic chicken, instead of conventionally farmed chicken, reduces the risk of getting sick from chicken?

EM: Regardless of which type of chicken you buy, you should assume it carries Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria. Tests show that locally, up to 30% of raw chicken test positive for Salmonella, whether it was raised on an organic or a conventional farm.

Q: If raw chicken is a potential source of harmful bacteria, why not wash it before cooking?

EM: By washing the meat, you risk spreading the bacteria throughout your kitchen without even noticing it. Washing chicken can splash bacteria up to three feet away from your sink and because you can’t see the bacteria, it’s very easy to then spread it all over your kitchen and home.

What’s more, washing the meat doesn’t kill the germs on the chicken. To kill bacteria, you should always cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165° F and use a thermometer to confirm this.

Q: Can’t you just wash the sink afterward to get rid of the bacteria?

EM: The bacteria often splashes far outside the sink without you even realizing it. More than a million bacteria can fit into single drop of heavily contaminated water, so, even if you sanitize your sink after washing the chicken, the bacteria may have already spread throughout your kitchen but be invisible to you.  Salmonella can remain active and reproduce on contaminated dry surfaces for weeks to months. 

Q: Some people marinate chicken in lemon juice or vinegar before cooking. Does this help kill bacteria?

EM: Marinating chicken in citrus juice or vinegar may reduce the regrowth of bacteria, but it won’t effectively kill the bacteria already present on the chicken. When you’re handling chicken as part of the marination process, it’s important to avoid cross-contamination. Before removing the chicken from the package, prepare all of your marinade ingredients. Set your casserole dish on a surface that can be easily cleaned. Then, gently place the chicken in the marinade and immediately wash your hands (for 20 seconds, with soap and hot water) before touching anything else.  And don’t forget to sanitize the counter top or the sink where you handled the raw chicken.

Q: Sometimes raw chicken is a little slimy or smelly. How do you deal with that if you don’t wash the meat?

EM: If you keep your chicken in the fridge for more than 24 hours after you buy it, it can develop a little bit of a film or smell. This doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to eat – typically, you can safely keep raw chicken in the fridge for up to 2 days. When you cook the chicken, this film will cook off. But, if the smell or film bothers you, I’d recommend dipping the chicken in boiling water for about 10-15 seconds. When putting the chicken in the boiling water, use tongs to hold the raw meat, and then thoroughly wash the tongs and your hands to remove bacteria. This will kill most of the bacteria and remove the film from the chicken with less risk of spreading harmful bacteria around the kitchen.

If you’re going to keep raw chicken for longer than 2 days before cooking, I’d suggest freezing it. A whole chicken can be safely kept in the freezer for up to a year, and chicken pieces can be safely kept in the freezer for up to 9 months. When you defrost the chicken, thaw it in the fridge rather than letting it sit in the sink because this method can allow the meat to become too warm and increase the number of bacteria. If you don’t have time to thaw it in the fridge, you can defrost it in the microwave. However, never cook your chicken in the microwave — microwaves don’t cook evenly so there’s a higher risk of bacteria not being killed.

Q: Any final advice?

EM: Yes! Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria can even live on the outside of the chicken package. Therefore, keep the package separated from other foods, especially produce. Don’t set the package of chicken next to your other food in the grocery cart, and in the fridge, I recommend wrapping the package of chicken in a plastic bag to avoid cross contamination and leaks.

Learn more on Food Safety from the CDC here.