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.
15 million Aztecs were probably killed by a form of salmonella the Spanish brought from Europe.
- When Europeans arrived in North America, they brought pathogens that natives were not immune to.
- Smallpox wiped out 5-8 million Aztecs shortly after the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519.
- But a different disease entirely is now suspected to have killed 15 million Aztecs, ending their society.
When Europeans arrived in North America, they carried with them pathogens against which the continent's native people had no immunity. And the effects could be devastating. Never was this more true than when smallpox wiped out 5-8 million Aztecs shortly after the Spanish arrived in Mexico around 1519. Even worse was a disease the locals called “huey cocoliztli" (or “great pestilence" in Aztec) that killed somewhere from 5 to 15 million people between 1545 and 1550. For 500 years, the cause of this epidemic has puzzled scientists. Now an exhaustive genetic study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution has identified the likely culprit: a lethal form of salmonella, Salmonella enterica, subspecies enterica serovar Paratyphi C. (The remaining Aztecs succumbed to a second smallpox outbreak beginning in 1576.)
Cocoliztli was therefore probably enteric fever, a horrible disease characterized by high fever, headaches, and bleeding from the nose, eyes, and mouth, and death in a matter of days once the symptoms appeared. Typhoid is an example of one enteric fever. “The cause of this epidemic has been debated for over a century by historians, and now we are able to provide direct evidence through the use of ancient DNA to contribute to a longstanding historical question," co-author Åshild Vågene of the Max Planck Institute in Germany tells AFP. (S. enterica no longer poses a serious health problem to the local population.)
A Mexican man in pre-hispanic Aztec costume catch a fire ball during a traditional "Juego de Pelota" at the Xcaret eco-park in Xcaret, Mexico on June 5 2009.Credit: LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images
The study is based on DNA analysis of teeth extracted from the remains of 24 Aztecs interred in a recently discovered cemetery in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The epidemic grave was found in the Grand Plaza of the Teposcolula-Yucundaa site.
The study's search for known pathogens was extensive. Study co-author Alexander Herbig says, “One of the most important aspects is we didn't need to make any assumptions." The team used a DNA-sequencing program called MALT to analyze the teeth. “We tested for all bacterial pathogens and DNA viruses for which genomic data is available," says Herbig. Teeth from 10 of the bodies had traces of salmonella.
Researchers suspect the Spanish brought the disease in tainted food or livestock because the teeth from five people who died prior to the Europeans' arrival show no trace of it—this is not a huge sample, of course, so it's difficult to be certain. Another team member, Kirsten Bos says, “We cannot say with certainty that S. enterica was the cause of the cocoliztli epidemic," adding, “We do believe that it should be considered a strong candidate."
A chilling consideration is that the same strain of bacteria has been identified in a Norwegian female who died in 1200, 300 years before it appeared in the Aztec community. Clearly, Europeans weren't as defenseless against it as those in the Western Hemisphere.
It's entirely possible that some other unknown pathogen was the true bacterial cause of huey cocoliztli, or that S. enterica was somehow already present in the areas of Mexico and Guatemala where the epidemic occurred. Still, the study's evidence is compelling. As more cocoliztli grave sites are discovered, further DNA analysis will no doubt be undertaken.