Poultry is one of the most common meats eaten in the U.S. each year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that consumption of chicken grew from 21 lbs. a year in 1950 to an estimated 87 lbs. per year in 2007. Almost all chicken comes from large poultry producers who raise chickens in enclosed environments under tightly controlled conditions. Free-range chickens have the ability to go outside, but these birds are the exception. All chicken, regardless of growing conditions, pose health hazards if not handled properly.
The four bacteria that can live on raw or cooked chicken include Salmonella enteritidis, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter jejuni and Listeria monocytogenes. The only way to kill these bacteria is to use heat to cook them. Listeria outbreaks have been found in cooked, processed chicken, like deli-style chicken breasts. The USDA reports that most contamination of cooked chicken with listeria comes from human contamination. Salmonella occurs in the intestinal tracks of animals and during processing, the bacteria may soil the chicken carcass.
The USDA does not recommend washing raw poultry before cooking it, since the bacteria on the chicken can spread to other parts of the kitchen without the handler's knowledge. The water can splash outside the sink, contaminating counters and anything else near the sink. Wash the knives and cutting board in hot, soapy water, or use a disinfectant on anything that the raw chicken contacts to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
Raw and cooked chicken needs to be held at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Placing cooked chicken in the refrigerator on a shelf where the raw chicken sat without cleaning the shelf can contaminate the cooked meat. Raw chicken may leak while it sits in the refrigerator and those leaks could touch food like fruit, vegetables or cheese. The safest way to store raw poultry in the refrigerator is by putting it in a leak-free plastic bag or on a plate large enough to catch any leakage from the package.
Chicken must be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA recommends using a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature of the chicken, since the color of the meat is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Stuffed chicken should not be cooked in a microwave, since the meat cooks before the stuffing reaches a safe temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hormones and Antibiotics
The USDA permits chicken growers to use antibiotics to raise chicken, but does not allow hormones. The growers must stop using the antibiotics in chicken feed in time for the chicken to metabolize the antibiotics out of its tissues before it can be processed. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspects for antibiotics on a random basis, and the USDA reports that just a small percentage of chickens test positive for antibiotics.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images