Handle Chicken Safely

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As our recent coverage shows, the raw chicken you buy has a high risk of bacterial contamination

The most common culprits are:

  1. Salmonella enteritidis, which may live in livestock’s intestinal tracts
  2. Campylobacter jejuni, one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in humans
  3. Staphylococcus aureus, found in improperly handled, prepared and/or refrigerated foods (i.e., chicken salad)
  4. Listeria monocytogenes, which is destroyed in the cooking process; however, poor hygiene may lead to contamination

Food handlers are responsible for most foodborne illnesses. Sanitary handling, as well as proper cooking and refrigeration, should prevent illnesses.

Observe these guidelines: 

  1. When you’re shopping for chicken, make sure it feels cold to the touch.
  2. Always check the sell-by and use-by dates. (FYI: Dating is not a federal requirement, but most stores do it.)
  3. Place poultry packages in disposable plastic bags to contain any leakage.
  4. When you arrive home, immediately place chicken in a refrigerator that maintains a 40°F temperature. Cook chicken within 1 to 2 days, or freeze at 0°F. Keep chicken in its package until using.
  5. If you’re buying a cooked chicken, make sure it’s hot. If you’re not going to eat it within 2 hours, refrigerate it. Cooked chicken should be consumed within 3 to 4 days.
  6. Bacteria must be consumed to cause illness, but handle raw chicken carefully to avoid cross-contamination. This occurs when raw poultry or its juices come in contact with other raw or cooked foods. If, for example, you’re cutting raw chicken, you don’t want to chop veggies on the same cutting board.
  7. Always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
  8. Never defrost chicken on a countertop. Defrosting should occur in the refrigerator, in cold water or in a microwave oven. It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Boneless chicken breasts will usually defrost overnight. Bone-in parts and whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or longer. Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in the refrigerator an additional 1 to 2 days before cooking.
  9. Chicken may be defrosted in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. A whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken or package of parts should defrost in 2 to 3 hours. A 1-pound package of boneless breasts will defrost in an hour or less.
  10. Chicken defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing, as some areas may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present won’t be destroyed.
  11. Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold-water method should be cooked before refreezing.
  12. Don’t cook frozen chicken in a microwave oven or slow cooker. It can, however, be cooked from its frozen state in the oven or on the stove, but cook time may be about 50% longer.
  13. Chicken may marinate in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Discard any uncooked leftover marinade.

Our Chronological Coverage 

  1. Most Chicken Producers’ Safeguard “Inadequate”
  2. Agriculture Department Slow on Campylobacter Test

Tune in tomorrow for Part 4 of this series: Cook Chicken Safely


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