By Julie Stewart
Clean up your fowl habits: A new study in the Journal of Food Protection suggests that most people mishandle poultry, increasing their risk for infection with Salmonella and Campylobacter.
Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), researchers from RTI International and Kansas State and Tennessee State universities surveyed more than 1,500 people about their poultry-handling habits. The scientists found these key errors:
1. Place Poultry In A Seperate Bag
At the grocery store, about 24 percent of people fail to keep uncooked birds and cuts of poultry separated from other foods in their carts. (About 31 percent make the same error with raw ground poultry.) That doesn’t sound like it would be a problem, but bacteria-laden juices can leak from poultry packaging onto other foods, including those you’ll eat raw.
If your store’s meat department doesn’t supply bags for this purpose, grab one from the produce aisle, says study author Katherine Kosa, M.S. Then, when you check out, make sure your poultry goes into its own plastic grocery bag—something 30 percent of people failed to do with whole birds or poultry pieces, and 38 percent failed to do with ground poultry.
2. Put The Meat On The Bottom Shelf
Only about 17 percent of people correctly store raw poultry in the refrigerator.
“The best recommendation is not only to put it on the bottom shelf [of your refrigerator] but also to put it in a plastic bag to prevent any possible leaks,” says Kosa. If you place poultry higher, juices can drip and taint foods below. If you bagged your meat properly at the store, stick the bag right on the bottom shelf of your fridge.
3. No Need To Rinse Or Wash
About 69 percent of people wash or rinse raw poultry before cooking it—despite the fact that you shouldn’t.
The surface of raw poultry can contain harmful bacteria, and if you rinse it under your faucet, contaminated water can splash as far as 28 inches on either side of the sink and 20 inches in front of it. That means nasty bugs can reach nearby kitchen surfaces and foods. Plus, washing poultry is pointless. “The bacteria can’t be washed off,” says Kosa. Only cooking will annihilate them.
4. Thaw Correctly
Of those who thaw frozen birds or poultry pieces in cold water (versus defrosting it in the microwave or refrigerator), only 11 percent of people do so correctly. The number drops to 6 percent with ground chicken.
“The recommendation is to put it in a plastic bag and submerge it in cold water, not running water,” says Kosa. “If you use running water, then it’s just splashing that bacteria around.”
Change the water every 30 minutes and never use warm water, which can bring the meat to a temperature that encourages bacterial growth.
Sound like too much work? Then thaw your meat in the refrigerator for a day or defrost it in the microwave. And don’t even think about thawing food on the counter—that brings it to unsafe temps.
5. Get A Food Thermometer
About 38 percent of people said they don’t own a food thermometer. Of those who do, most use it to check the temps of whole turkeys and whole chickens, but fewer than half check smaller cuts or ground poultry.
Take a few seconds to make sure all poultry has reached 74 degrees Celsius. It’s the only reliable way to determine that you’ve killed harmful bacteria, says Kosa.
Another bonus: Once you find that the poultry’s done, you can take it off the heat. You’ll be less likely to end up with dry, stringy, overcooked chicken.