How to handle a raw chicken safely with solid confidence
Handling raw chicken safely is imperative to avoid food poisoning. Raw chicken carries the salmonella bacteria, which is responsible for more cases of food poisoning than any other pathogen. To keep your family safe and healthy, it is important to use good judgment and sound food safety guidelines.
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Table of Contents
Handling Raw Chicken Safely
Americans eat more chickens than any other meat. Chickens represent more than 95% of the animals killed for food. Chicken is cheap, abundant, and versatile. You can find endless recipes on boneless skinless chicken breast. Chicken is also a great source of lean protein.
About a million people get sick from eating poultry annually, so learn how to handle a raw chicken safely and carefully.
Bacteria that raw poultry meat could contain
- Clostridium perfringens
How to find a fresh chicken
Inspect chicken before purchase. Here are what you should look for:
Fresh chicken should be odor-free. If you open the package and still smell the odor, don’t use it and return it in its original package to the store for a refund.
Fresh chicken should be plump, firm, and springy. Avoid chicken if the flesh is too hard, or if it doesn’t spring back to its original shape when pressed with your finger.
- Avoid the one with blood on cut parts. It could indicate that the chicken has been frozen and thawed several times and increases the risk of bacterial contamination.
- Color: Check the color. Fresh chicken is pink, not gray or pasty. Breasts should be pale pink with very little fat. Dark meat should be dark pink with some white fat. Its skin should be creamy white to deep yellow. Check the crevices like the thighs and under the wings too.
- Find unbroken packaging.
- “Sell-by” date: Look for “sell-by” date that indicates the last day the chicken should be sold.
- Grading: Look for the one with U.S.D.A. Grade A rating. Chicken has 3 letter grades: A, B, and C. Grade A chicken doesn’t have any deformities without feathers/hairs, cuts or tears in the skin or flesh, broken bones, or discolored portions. Grades B and C, on the other hand, have increasing deformities and other issues.
There are so many chicken label terms like egg labeling.
“Air-Chilled”: Always buy air-chilled chicken for the better taste. Chicken (after de-feathered) was cooled by hanging in the open air, not by being submerged in cold water. The water-chilling process causes to add water weight, which dilutes the flavor of the meat.
“Fresh”: The term “Fresh” means it’s never been frozen. Freezing and thawing can change the texture. Fresh chicken tastes better than the frozen one. Most store chicken is frozen during transportation, then thawed before it hits the shelves.
“Free range““cage free”: 99% of chickens are mass production ones: fed an unhealthy diet and raised with cruelty. So it’s really hard to find the true “free range” chickens unless you go through specially shops or buy directly from the farms. The exercise and omnivorous diet will make for healthier chickens and eggs.
“Glass-fed”: Unlike cows and other ruminant animals (cattle, bison, elk, moose, sheep, goats, and deer) that eat only plants, chickens are omnivores. Chickens eat insects, plants, and fruits, not grass. So, you won’t find grass-fed chickens.
Corn fed meat is much higher in Omega 6. Grass-fed meat is much higher in Omega 3 and other nutrients. Grass-fed is typically leaner and contains more beta carotene than grain-fed meat.
“Hormone-free”: No chicken (or pigs) for food in the US is allowed to use hormones, so the label is completely unnecessary. Every chicken you see at the stores is basically hormone-free. Don’t be fooled by the chicken manufactures.
Kosher or Halal: Choose a Kosher or Halal chicken despite your religious belief. They are farmed and prepared humanely and responsibly in accordance with Jewish and Islamic culinary laws. However, remember the terms doesn’t necessarily mean the superior quality.
“Natural”: Natural means anything. Don’t be fooled by the marketing lingo and pay extra for it.
“No Antibiotics”: Unlike hormones, antibiotics are used for farm animals. “No antibiotics added” means the producer can provide the proper documentation.
Organic: “certified organic” means no growth hormones or antibiotics, synthetic pesticides, sewage, genetic engineering with sustainability and conservation. The fee for the certification process makes organic meats are often more expensive. Some producers go above the organics standards, yet aren’t certified due to costs and other issues.
Even if you can’t always find grass-fed meat or free range chickens, going organic is always a good idea. It is more expensive, but in this case, definitely worth it.
“Pasture-raised”: The term “pasture-raised” doesn’t have any official definition nor require extra labeling by the USDA. It means nothing or little like “free range” and “cage free”.
The whole chicken should weigh around 3-4 pounds.
- Don’t pick a raw chicken up till the end of the shopping (to keep it cold and avoid cross-contamination)
- Use an extra plastic bag to prevent leakage onto other items in your grocery cart.
Prevent the Growth of Bacteria
Just like meat, fish, or any animal-based food product, raw or undercooked chicken carry certain bacteria. These bacteria can make you sick if they’re given the opportunity to multiply.
To avoid food borne illness, we need to:
- refrigerate or freeze the food to slow down their reproductive cycle. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria.
- cook the food to kill them (only way)
Before and after handling raw poultry, use hot, soapy water for 20 seconds to wash.
- Cutting boards
- Knives, scissors, and any other tools
- The sink and all work surfaces
Dishtowel & sponge
Wash your dish towels regularly and sanitize your sponges every other day. (Put a wet sponge in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.) How often you replace your sponge depends on what you’re using it for. If it’s a sponge that is cleaned up after poultry, sanitize once, then toss after another day or two.
- Use dedicated plastic cutting boards for raw chicken. Though all materials are safe for raw chicken, a wooden cutting board can harbor bacteria.
- To clean your cutting board, scrub with basic kitchen soap and water. Next, sanitize the board, typically by wiping it with a cloth that’s been soaked in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. (You can also use sanitizing products, but make sure to read the instructions ― you’ll often need to rinse with water afterward).
Don’t rinse raw chicken
Splashing water can cause cross-contamination.
Keep it cold
Place chicken in the fridge immediately after you came home. Only take it out when you are ready to cook.
Thaw frozen chicken, wrapped, in the refrigerator for best results. Thawing times can vary depending on how thoroughly frozen the chicken is and size (whole or cut up).
A general guideline: allow 24 hours thawing time for a 5-pound whole chicken; allow about 5 hours per pound for thawing chicken pieces. Never thaw chicken on the kitchen counter.
Never let a raw chicken nor its juice touch with any other food.
Safe Storage for chicken
Storing the chicken properly is imperative – before and after cooking.
- Place chicken on a plate then covers and store on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Don’t allow raw poultry or its juices to touch other foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
- Fresh, raw chicken can be stored in its original wrap for up to 2 days in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
- Immediately toss any plastic wrapping. Never re-use zip-seal bags that have contained raw chicken.
- Refrigerating leftover cooked chicken within 2 hours, once it has cooled. You can keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
- Freeze chicken immediately if you don’t plan to use it within 2 days after purchasing. You can freeze the most chicken in its original packaging safely for up to 2 months. If you plan to freeze it longer, double-wrap or rewrap with plastic wrap, freezer paper, or aluminum foil. Chicken is safe essentially forever in the freezer, but to keep the quality, freeze raw chicken for up to 9 months, and cooked chicken for 2 to 3 months.
- Divide the chicken into efficient, meal-size portions and pre-package for freezing. That way, you can defrost and cook quickly and conveniently.
- Vacuuming out all the air is the key to the best frozen chicken.
When freezing whole chickens, remove and rinse giblets (if any) and pat dry with paper towels. Trim away any excess fat from the chicken. Tightly wrap, label, date, and freeze both chicken and giblets in separate freezer-strength plastic, paper, or foil wraps.
Cooking chicken thoroughly is the best way to kill pathogens, but looks can be deceiving. According to the USDA, the temperature is the best and only way to tell if a chicken is fully cooked or not.
- Marinate your chicken in a plastic bag (or other closed containers) in the refrigerator. Toss the juices in the container and the bag when you are done.
- Serve cooked poultry using a clean platter and utensils; never ones touched by raw meat.
- Follow package instructions closely when cooking prepared chicken.
Chicken should always be cooked thoroughly before eating. You should never cook chicken partially and then store it to be finished later since this promotes bacterial growth.
|Chicken||Weight||Roasting at 350°F||Simmering||Grilling|
|Whole Broiler/Fryer||3-4 lbs||1¼-1½ hrs||Not suitable||60-75 min|
|Whole Roasting Hen||3-4 lbs||1¼-1½ hrs||Not suitable||60-75 min|
|Whole Capon||4-8 lbs||2-3 hrs||Not suitable||15-20 min/lb|
|Whole Cornish Hens||18-24 oz||50-60 min||35-40 min||45-55 min|
|Breast Halves, bone-in||6-8 oz||30-40 min||35-45 min||10-15 min/side|
|Breast Half, boneless||4 oz||20-30 min||25-30 min||6-8 min/side|
|Legs or thighs||8 or 4 oz||40-50 min||40-50 min||10-15 min/side|
|Drumsticks||4 oz||35-45 min.||40-50 min||8-12 min/side|
|Wings or wingettes||2-3 oz||30-40 min||35-45 min||8-12 min/side|
Reheat to the right temperature
If the chicken was cooked properly the first time and quickly cooled down the leftovers, then they can heat up leftovers to 145 or 155 degrees F. But if you were in doubt, reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F to be safe.
Use a thermometer because a microwave may not cook the meat evenly.
The color will change once it’s cooked. However, you shouldn’t solely rely on color. Remember, “temperature” is the only way to judge whether if the chicken was fully cooked or not. If it reached 165, it should be ok.
The meat of safely cooked chicken can stay pink for a number of different reasons. From the freezing way, cooking methods (grilling or smoking), the hemoglobin in chicken tissues, the feeding, the age to the way it was raised can influence the color of meat. The pink color in the meat of the safely cooked chicken is particularly common in young birds.
Though clear juices can be one indication of thorough cooking, use a thermometer to judge.
The basic rule of thumb
- Always rely on the temperature, not color.
- Avoid eating pink chicken meat, as it may be undercooked and is likely to contain bacteria.
- Cooked meat should be white. The juices from a properly cooked chicken will be clear and not cloudy.
- Don’t cook raw poultry if it appears gray, feels slimy, or smells sour. When in doubt, throw it out.
What to do after ingesting it
If you think you have eaten raw or undercooked chicken, just wait and see whether symptoms of foodborne illness develop. Avoid trying to induce vomiting, as this may cause unnecessary harm to the gut.
If a person develops food poisoning, they should ensure that they remain hydrated. If the individual is unable to keep fluids down, they should seek medical help.
Every year, 48 million people become sick due to food poisoning (foodborne illness). Over 1 million people are infected with salmonella and 3000 death annually. That’s a lot!
Eating raw chicken and its juice can cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Typically, people who get a foodborne illness recover and don’t suffer any long-term health problems. But some could develop complications in the kidney and brain.
Who are vulnerable
Anyone can get food poisoning, but adults aged 65+, children younger than 5 years, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women are more likely to develop a serious illness.
Signs of food poisoning
Call or see the doctor if you or someone in your care has the following signs of food poisoning:
- Bloody stools
- Diarrhea for more than 3 days that is not improving
- High fever (temperature more than 102°F)
- Prolonged vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down
- Signs of dehydration
- Dry mouth and throat
- Dizziness when standing up
- Making very little urine
What to do after ingesting it
If you think that you have eaten raw or undercooked chicken, wait and see whether symptoms of food poisoning develop.
- See or call your doctor.
- Use over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms.
Loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea, and Pepto-Bismol for diarrhea and nausea.
- Don’t try to induce vomiting because this may cause unnecessary harm to the gut.
Anyone recovering from a foodborne illness should stay at home, remain hydrated, and get plenty of rest.
When to see a doctor
- Bloody stools
- Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
- High fever over 102°F
- If you are unable to retain fluids.
- If you are pregnant, over 65 years of age, or have a weakened immune system, children younger than 5 years to see a doctor.
- If symptoms last for more than a few days
- Little or no urination
- Vomiting so frequently that it is not possible to replace fluids
Conclusion: Handling raw chicken with care is extremely important since many people get sick from pourtly each year. Know how to handle it safely and prevent your family and loved ones from food poisoning.
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