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Guide to Preparing and Cooking Chicken Safely

We’ve all heard and read stories about chicken and how improper preparation and undercooking can result in consumers developing diseases like salmonella, e coli, or even bird flu. Those are all viruses that can cause a lot of damage to the human body, especially among the young and those that are immune deficient. However, it’s a danger we face every time we eat chicken, especially at restaurants where we have no control over how the chicken is stored, prepared, and cooked.

At home, however, we are indeed able to control how we choose the chicken our family will eat and how we handle the chicken we bring home from the grocery store. From the time the poultry reaches the store until it’s fully-cooked and on our kitchen tables, there’s all sorts of opportunity for bacteria to form, so paying close attention to the rules of chicken safety can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Selecting the Chicken

These days, most people shop for their meat and poultry at the local supermarket, though some individuals purchase their chicken at a butcher shop or farmer’s market-type establishment. Regardless of where you buy it, however, the same rules apply.
When you buy fresh chicken, whether it is pre-packaged or packaged by the butcher, it should be cold to the touch when purchased. If it feels as if it’s only at room temperature or warmer, don’t buy it.

It’s a good idea to borrow some plastic bags from the produce aisle and put each package of chicken in a bag before you place it in the cart. This way, any leaky packages won’t contaminate the other things around it. And if possible, purchase all your meat and poultry last, just before you leave the store, especially on days when it’s hot outside. This will insure that the chicken stays at a cold temperature until it gets to your refrigerator or freezer.

Most of today’s supermarkets also offer ready-to-eat rotisserie chickens, either whole or half. When purchasing these, make sure they have been kept warm on a heat source and that they are still hot to the touch when you purchase one. If you’re going to eat it within an hour or two, you don’t need to refrigerate it. But if it’s several hours until dinner time, stick it in the fridge and re-warm it when you’re ready to eat.

Storing Chicken

Chicken may be frozen in the packages in which it was sold (leave the plastic bag on it if you think it’s leaking). If you need to divide it into smaller amounts, re-wrap those pieces with plastic or freezer wrap. You can freeze already cooked chicken in the same manner by wrapping it in the above materials or placing the pieces in a freezer bag.

If you plan to use the chicken shortly and don’t want to freeze it, put it in the refrigerator immediately upon returning from the store and use it within two days. Keeping it in the refrigerator any longer could result in the formation of bacteria.

When it’s time to defrost frozen chicken, don’t do so on your kitchen counter. Place it in the refrigerator the night before you plan to use it, defrost it in your microwave on the oven’s defrost setting, or submerge the chicken (in its package) in a bath of cold water. Change the water often to be sure it stays cold.

Preparing Chicken

Those who get sick from chicken often do so because of mistakes made during the preparation of meals that include poultry, namely from what is known as cross contamination.

Cross contamination usually occurs when kitchen utensils like knives or cutting boards are used to prepare chicken and then used for other purposes – such as to slice vegetables – without first being cleaned properly.

Therefore, it’s important to clean everything that touched the chicken with soap and very hot water. It’s also a wise idea to keep a separate cutting board for your chicken so that cross contamination doesn’t occur. Plastic cutting boards instead of wood are best as they are not porous and can be easily cleaned.

Cooking Chicken

There are some obvious visual ways to figure out if chicken is cooked. Obviously, the juices should run clear and the meat should appear cooked. However, you might still notice a slight pink color, which may be caused by the hemoglobin in the tissue of the chicken. Hence, the only true way to check the doneness of the chicken is by determining the internal temperature, which should reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. When testing a whole chicken, stick the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, which is the last part to get done.