Monday, October 14, 2013

Keeping Beasties at Bay: Part 1

Raw chicken - it's only scary if you don't know how to handle it
I was going to start this series with personal hygiene since it's the most basic way to decrease the chances of picking up a case of food poisoning. But, with the news on antibiotic-resistant salmonella showing up in mass-produced Foster Farms chicken, I decided to bump up a discussion on treating poultry safely in the kitchen.

Poultry contains salmonella. Accept this. Yes, antibiotic-resistant salmonella is worse, but regular salmonella is no picnic either. Nor is campylobacter, another bacteria common in raw poultry. So, no matter what chicken you are using - organic, natural, mass-produced, grown in your own backyard - you better be treating it carefully. All of it can make you sick if not handled properly.

Here's a list of things to do to assure that you don't unwittingly give yourself a dangerous case of food poisoning:

Storing: Always store raw poultry at the bottom of your fridge where raw juice can't drip on anything or place in a bowl or pan to catch the drips. Plastic wrap is notorious for leaking and if raw chicken drips on anything you will eat raw, it's bad news.

Thawing: If using frozen poultry, thaw in the refrigerator. Only thaw thin pieces, like chicken cutlets or tenders, in a bowl of cool water in the sink for no longer than 30 minutes. If you want to speed up thawing in the fridge, place the chicken in a bowl of water. That speeds up the thawing considerably. Remember that this water is now contaminated with bacteria, so treat it like raw poultry too.

Rinsing: Don't rinse raw poultry. You are not going to rinse off the bacteria. Not possible. All you are going to do is spread the bacteria around your sink, contaminating even more surfaces.

Planning during Prep: Think ahead about the tools you will need when working with raw poultry and get them out before you start handling the chicken. This will save you the step of washing your hands so you can get the knife out of the drawer - because you don't want to touch that drawer pull with your nasty chicken-y hands. Tongs are really useful. You can keep your hands clean when moving the chicken around. Don't let anything you will eat raw, like lettuce for a salad, near raw poultry. This is called cross-contamination and it is often how bad bugs get into our food.

Cleaning Up: Anything that touches raw or partially cooked poultry needs to be washed with soap and water or put them in the dishwasher. This includes knives, tongs, cutting boards, your counter, your sink, and your hands. Soap, water, and little elbow grease does a pretty good job of getting rid of nearly all of the bacteria on surfaces. You can also invest in disinfecting wipes for a final wipe down of counters and the sink.

Cooking: Cook poultry to the proper internal temperature, at least 165°F. There should be no pink at all. When you cut into the chicken, juices should run clear, even if you cut all the way to the bone. I think that an instant read thermometer is an excellent investment, but using one does require some practice. You stick it into the thickest part of the chicken, the place it's going to take the longest to cook (in a whole chicken, that's in the thigh). Wait until the temperature stops rising and see what you get. If the temperature is too low, cook it some more. And don't forget to wash your thermometer with soap and water before sticking it back in the chicken again!

After Cooking: As with all cooked meat, chill down any leftovers quickly. Don't let roast chicken sit on the counter for 2 hours. Cooking doesn't kill all the bacteria and they will start to multiply again if given the right conditions. So, put it in the fridge as soon as you can.

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