Only 1 in 75 households are cooking chicken safely, survey finds

Most homes are using insufficient methods to determine when chicken is done cooking and safe to eat.

cooked chicken on a plate
Photo by Harry Dona from Pexels
  • Checking the inside color of chicken is not a sufficient way to test its doneness.
  • According to experts, the best way to ensure that chicken is safe to eat is to cook it to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
  • From 2009 to 2015, more than 3,100 people were sickened by chicken.

Chicken is America's favorite meat. But, chances are, you aren't preparing it safely.

An alarming new study found that only 1 out of every 75 households are cooking chicken properly by using a thermometer. This is according to research from the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research. Nearly 4,000 households in five European countries were asked about common methods for checking the doneness of chicken, and the findings were unsettling.

Forget the color-check method

While this is a common technique used by half of the households in the survey, the researchers reported that the color of the inside of a chicken changes at temperatures that are too low to kill common poultry pathogens like salmonella, clostridium perfringens, and the most common, Campylobacter. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, poultry that is sufficiently cooked and safe to eat can come in shades of white, pink, and tan just like insufficiently cooked poultry.

Thermometers are perhaps the most reliable ways of indicating if a chicken is safe to eat, but less than 1.3 percent of households in the study used them while cooking chicken.

Chicken pathogens

In addition to being the most popular meat in the United States, chicken is also the number one cause of foodborne illnesses. According to a CDC study, 3,113 people reported being sickened by chicken via the National Outbreak Reporting System web app between 2009 and 2015, more than by any other food category.

Eating undercooked chicken can cause foodborne illness with symptoms like fever, diarrhea, digestive malfunction, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and dehydration. This affects more than 1 million people in the United States every year, according to the CDC. Salmonella symptoms typically begin 6 hours to 6 days after infection, and can last from 4 to 7 days. Symptoms associated with a Campylobacter infection start 2 to 5 days after the infection and can last up to a week. As for C. perfringens, the symptoms come on suddenly, typically occurring between 8 to 12 hours after infection, and last for less than 24 hours. Unlike salmonella and Campylobacter, vomiting and a high fever are not symptoms associated with C. perfringens.

How to safely prepare chicken

chicken dish

Photo by Mark DeYoung on Unsplash

So, how should poultry lovers go forth?

Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline that safety is not subjective.

"To be sure chicken is safe to eat, use an objective measure instead of a subjective observation," she explained. In other words, use a food thermometer.

165°F (74°C) is the standard internal temperature that chicken needs to reach before it is considered safe to eat. Passerrello said to aim for the thickest part of the meat, making sure that the tip of the thermometer isn't touching any of the bird's bones or fat. You should also check the temperature in more than one place to confirm that it is evenly cooked and safe to consume.

While a meat thermometer will certainly help, you should also pay special attention to thoroughly heat the entire surface of the chicken, where most of the bacteria lingers. The researchers in the study reported that bacteria continued to remain on the surface chicken in places that had not been in contact with a frying pan even after it was fully internally cooked.

"We were surprised to find that these recommendations are not safe, not based on scientific evidence and rarely used by consumers," Dr. Solveig Langsrud, the lead author of the study and senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research, said in a press release. "Primarily, consumers should check that all surfaces of the meat are cooked, as most bacteria are present on the surface. Secondly, they should check the core. When the core meat is fibrous and not glossy, it has reached a safe temperature."

But you can, and should, take safety precautions as soon as the poultry is purchased.

Passerrello explained to Healthline that shoppers should "place raw chicken in a disposable bag before putting it in the bottom of your grocery cart to avoid cross-contamination of other items you're purchasing."

As for storage, you should place your package of chicken at the very bottom of your refrigerator so as to avoid any juices dripping onto other food. When the time comes to cook your chicken, the best practice is to use gloves when placing the raw slab of meat on a cutting board reserved for poultry only. This is to prevent the chicken juices from potentially cross-contaminating other food that could go on the board. While you should definitely wash your hands, you should not wash the chicken. This could facilitate the spread of pathogens in water droplets around the sink area and beyond.

For more tips on how to safely prepare chicken, check out the CDC's online guide. Bon appétit.

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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