A significantly high amount of raw chicken contains Salmonella. To stay safe, you need to follow basic food safety rules.
A 2018 study by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System concluded that one in five retail chickens in the United States was contaminated with Salmonella.
The number for your community depends on where you live and when you read this. However, the message is clear: the chicken in the supermarket is most likely contaminated, so handle it with care and cook it all the way through.
Salmonella is a genus of disease-causing bacteria that can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted. And yet, as reported by WebMD, it’s the most frequently reported cause of food poisoning in the United States. The World Health Organization calls it “1 of 4 key global causes of diarrhoeal diseases.”
When ingested in a large enough quantity, Salmonella causes salmonellosis, a potentially life-threatening disease characterized by fever, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. Children under 5, adults aged over 65, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system are particularly at risk of severe illness.
Play it safe when it comes to the food you prepare for yourself and your family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.35 million Americans contract salmonellosis each year. Of them, 26,500 are hospitalized and 420 die.
How to Stay Safe
To protect yourself and your family from salmonellosis, you should follow the same basic food safety rules that restaurants follow. So let’s take a minute or two to talk about what those basic rules are.
Keep packages of raw chicken on the lowest shelf of the fridge. This way, if raw chicken juices accidentally leak, the rest of the food in the refrigerator won’t get contaminated. (If the juices drip down to the crisper drawer, discard all foods in it and sanitize it.)
Don’t wash the chicken before you cook it. Not only is this counterproductive to your cooking, but the splatter from the chicken and its juices will contaminate your sink and countertops with disease-causing bacteria. These bacteria can easily be transferred to other foods and to the hands of others in your household.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds after handling raw chicken or touching its juices. Sanitize all countertops, cutting boards, plates, cutlery, and utensils that came into contact with it. Preferably, use one cutting board for red meat, poultry, and seafood, and another for fruits and veg.
Cook your chicken to 165°F (74°C), the minimum internal temperature recommended by the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA. To measure the chicken’s internal temperature, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the flesh and wait 2-3 seconds to get an accurate reading.
Contrary to what some YouTubers and cookbook authors say, you shouldn’t rely on the color of the chicken to determine its doneness. As we wrote in “Can Chicken Be Slightly Pink in the Middle?”, chicken can be perfectly cooked and still appear somewhat pink inside.
Never place cooked chicken in the plastic container it was raw in or on plates, cutting boards, or work surfaces that haven’t been thoroughly disinfected. This is the easiest way to reintroduce the Salmonella bacteria back onto the surface of the chicken.
One in twenty-five packages of chicken at your local grocery store is likely contaminated with Salmonella, a disease-causing bacterium that can cause food poisoning.
To protect yourself and your family from salmonellosis as the home cook, remember to:
- Keep chicken on the lowest shelf of the fridge
- Never wash chicken before cooking it; it will spread bacteria in the kitchen
- Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds after handling chicken or touching its juices
- Cook your chicken to 165°F (74°C), the USDA-recommended minimum internal temperature for safe consumption
- Disinfect all countertops, cutting boards, and cutlery or utensils that came into contact with raw chicken
- Do not store cooked chicken in the same packaging or on the same plates where you kept it raw
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