Sure, beef may claim the motto “it’s what’s for dinner,” but chicken is often the meat of choice for home chefs across the country. In fact, Americans consume a whopping eight billion chickens each year. According to Vox, in recent decades per capita chicken consumption has “skyrocketed”, while beef consumption has dropped significantly. Despite being the most popular (and nutritious) option, whether you’re grilling your bird or churning a coq au vin, chicken can present more immediate health hazards than its beef counterpart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that you can get sick if you eat something contaminated with raw chicken or its juices, and according to a new survey, many people are doing something that may make their chances of food poisoning worse. Read on to find out what is not important to avoid when preparing chicken.
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Never wash raw chicken, warns the CDC.
You may have seen your mother do it when she was making her famous fried chicken, but washing poultry before cooking is an outdated and quite dangerous practice. The CDC estimates that millions of Americans become ill from foodborne illness each year, resulting in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are at particular risk for more serious outcomes, but food poisoning is not fun for the sufferer.
Raw chicken is often contaminated with Salmonella, Campylobacterand other dangerous bacteria that die when heated. Campylobacter is the “most common bacterial cause of diarrheal disease in the United States,” according to the CDC, while Salmonella causes more foodborne illness than any other bacteria. England’s National Health Service (NHS) reports that recent studies have found that more than 50 percent of the chicken sold in the UK carries Campylobacter, and according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one in 25 packages of chicken in the US supermarket is contaminated with Salmonella.
When you wash your bird, it may seem like you’re removing all of these germs, but it actually has the opposite effect. The water can end up spreading the bacteria to your hands, surfaces around the kitchen, and other foods on your countertops. “Water droplets can travel more than 50 cm in all directions,” reports the NHS. “It only takes a few Campylobacter cells to cause food poisoning.”
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This harmful bacteria can stay in your sink.
Bacteria-containing water droplets can not only splatter in the kitchen, but everything that your chicken washed can remain in the sink, even after cleaning. A 2019 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that of the participants who washed their poultry raw, 60 percent had bacteria in the sink after rinsing the chicken (or turkey). “Even more concerning is that 14 percent still had bacteria in their sinks after trying to clean the sink,” the study found.
However, many people still wash raw chicken.
Despite this, many people still wash their raw chicken before cooking it. In a recent consumer survey conducted by the Food Safety Information Council and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, it was found that 49 percent of Australians commit this culinary sin.
Even with the large number of chicken washers the survey obtained (which consisted of 1,219 people aged 18 and over), Cathy moir, the president of the council, was happy with this result. “We are pleased that raw whole chicken wash rates have dropped from 60 to 49 percent since we last asked this question in 2011,” he said. “Cooks washing raw chicken pieces with skin are also reduced from 52 percent to 43 percent and washing skinless pieces from 41 percent to 40 percent.”
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Follow these other steps to prevent food poisoning.
Skipping the sink isn’t the only thing you can do to reduce your risk of food poisoning when chicken is on the menu. Prevention can start at the grocery store, where the CDC recommends putting chicken in a disposable bag before adding it to your cart so raw juices don’t get contaminated by other foods. It should stay in the bag in your refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.
It’s a good idea to try to prepare the side dishes or salad that you plan to serve with your meal before any birds, and never let other foods touch the same plate or preparation area as the chicken. Always use a separate cutting board for chicken and wash it and any other utensils you have used with hot soapy water before moving on to the next item – and your hands too! Disinfecting the area as a final precautionary step can ensure that all bacteria are gone.
And invest in a meat thermometer.
It’s not just raw juices that can make you sick – simply eating an undercooked piece of chicken can lead to a foodborne illness. But if you cook your bird until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the chest or the thickest part of the thigh, it will kill any lurking bacteria and is safe to burrow.
But how do you know when your chicken reaches the right temperature? This is where a meat thermometer comes in. They’re not cheap, but definitely a worthy investment to save yourself the guessing game of “cut the meat to see if the juice runs clear.” This little device will accurately tell you when your food is safe to eat, plus it will help you achieve a juicy, tender, and certainly not dry piece of meat every time.
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