Most homes are using insufficient methods to determine when chicken is done cooking and safe to eat.
- 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.
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
So, how should poultry lovers go forth?
"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.
Research suggests that a religious edict from the Catholic Church shaped the evolution of the modern chicken.
Chicken is one of the most consumed meats in the world. The U.S. alone consumes 8 billion chickens per year — about 25 birds per every meat-eater in the country. But just 1,000 years ago, chicken was a relatively rare dish.
New research suggests that a religious edict might have changed that, putting chicken on the menu for millions of people and shaping its evolutionary fate forever.
(Photo: Scott Olson)
Chickens have been domesticated for millennia. Some scientists think ground zero for domestic chickens was the Indus Valley some 4,000 years ago, but we know for sure that domesticated chickens existed in ancient Egypt, Rome, and, notably, Greece. The ancient Greeks were apparently so inspired by the virility of roosters that they constructed a cockfighting amphitheater in the city of Pergamum so that young soldiers could witness their avian valor.
Still, chickens back then weren't a common meat source like they are today. Maybe it was because they were, quite literally, a different bird. Chickens were scrawnier and scrappier, more closely resembling the red jungle fowl of Southeast Asia — the chicken’s progenitor. Even up until medieval Europe, chickens seemed to be kept primarily for egg laying, cockfighting, and as decorative lawn ornaments.
(Red jungle fowl)
But fasting laws changed the bird’s fate. In the 10th century, the Catholic Church passed a religious edict as part of the Benedictine Reform that banned the consumption of four-legged animals on fasting days, which totaled 130 days of the year. Unfortunately for the two-legged chicken, people began to eat more poultry. And scientists have actually found tangible evidence of this dietary shift, in the form of bones.
Zooarchaeologist Naomi Sykes of the University of Nottingham and her colleagues have spent years counting the number of chicken bones at various archaeological sites around Europe. Her team discovered that the number of chicken bones in sites had doubled from about the year 950 to 1000 — the same time as the reforms. So, why do researchers think this increased consumption shaped the chicken’s evolution?
In 2010, evolutionary biologist George Larson and his colleagues studied the genomes of eight different populations of modern chickens. They found that all modern chickens carry a dominant version of a gene called the thyroid stimulating hormone receptor (TSHR). This variant allows the birds to lay eggs year-round, and seems to have helped make the birds become more plump over time. But, curiously, this gene variant was not widespread among domestic chickens in ancient cultures. The Benedictine Reform seems to have changed that.
Larson and his colleagues posit that as 10th-century Europeans suddenly began to breed more chickens, they inevitably selected the reproduction of meatier birds who laid eggs year-round. In other words, they began selecting for the TSHR variant and changed the genetic structure of chickens in the evolutionary blink of an eye.
“It speaks a lot about the effects humans’ decisions have on the environment—even a political or religious decision really can impact the biology of animals,” said Ludovic Orlando, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen.
The findings also provide a different way of looking at the process of domestication.
“It’s cool because it shows we’re moving beyond thinking of domestication as a single event… you can see the psychology of early farmers over time who go from just wanting to make a wild variant grow, to making the damn thing tasty,” said Tom Gilbert, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen.
Although it's likely that the Benedictine Reform played a major rule in shaping the evolution of the modern chicken, there were likely other forces at work, too. The processes of urbanization, more efficient agricultural practices and a warmer climate might have also played a part, said study author Anders Eriksson.