The U.K.'s Food Standards Agency says washing raw chicken enables the spread of campylobacter bacteria -- the germs jumping onto the cook's hands, clothes, as well as surrounding work surfaces as the water splashes.
Campylobacter bacteria can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and severe arthritis. In a few rare cases the bacterial infection has proven fatal or necessitated the amputation of a limb.
In a recent FSA survey, 44 percent of respondents admitted to always washing chicken prior to cooking. Only 28 percent, however, had heard of campylobacter bacteria. Ninety percent, on the other hand, were well aware of salmonella and E. coli.
"Campylobacter is a serious issue," said Catherine Brown, chief executive of the FSA. "Not only can it cause severe illness and death, but it costs the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year as a result of sickness absence and the burden on the National Health Service."
Studies suggest some 80 percent of campylobacter cases originate from contaminated poultry.