Temperature Control Guidelines for Fresh Poultry

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Certain foods that are more prone to spoilage or bacterial infection than others need to be kept at a specific temperature to inhibit bacterial growth until the food is ready to be eaten or cooked. Fresh (i.e., unfrozen) poultry, if left out at room temperature, can quickly become unsafe to eat due to spoilage or infection from bacteria. Luckily, with a little bit of know-how and a basic storage procedure, you can ensure that your chicken is safe and ready to be eaten whenever you are ready to eat it.

Chicken and Temperature Control

  • The United States Department of Agriculture uses the term "Danger Zone" to describe the temperatures at which bacteria grow most favorably in foods. The Danger Zone is generally understood to be between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit; anything below 40 degrees will usually curb bacterial growth and anything above 140 degrees is considered cooked, or at least cooked well enough that bacterial growth is not as much of a concern. Fresh poultry and other uncooked foods should never be kept in the Danger Zone. Any foods left in the Danger Zone for more than one hour should be discarded immediately.

Safe Temperatures

  • Temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, such as those that exist in your refrigerator, are safe for storing uncooked poultry. Keeping foods at this temperature does not mean food will last forever; it simply means food will last longer than if you kept it out at room temperature, meaning you can safely store the uncooked food for future use without risking food-borne illness.

Storage Time

  • The USDA recommends storing unfrozen poultry for no more than one day per every 4 pounds. For instance, a 2-pound chicken will keep in the refrigerator for two day,s while a 24-pound turkey will keep in the fridge for six days. If you are storing individual cuts of poultry rather than an entire bird, follow the product labeling for storage instructions and times. Of course, these are generalized instructions that apply to poultry butchered and processed under ideal conditions. Even if you observe these timelines, always check poultry for signs of spoilage, such as uncharacteristic odor or color, sliminess and mold growth, before cooking and consuming it.

Other Considerations

  • Arguably more important than the temperature at which you keep poultry is the temperature to which the poultry is cooked before it is consumed. Use a probe or another kind of thermometer to check the internal temperature of the cooked poultry at its thickest point; it should be no lower than 165 degrees Fahrenheit before being eaten. If you think you may have contracted a food-borne illness from eating poultry, contact your doctor or local poison control center immediately and take note of what exactly you ate in case your doctor needs to know.

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