Did you know that the home is the primary location of foodborne illnesses in the U.S.? And that raw or undercooked poultry is often to blame, due to Salmonella or Campylobacter contamination? That’s why it’s critical for home cooks to handle poultry properly. But most people don’t adhere to all the food safety practices recommended by the USDA, according to a survey of 1,500 grocery shoppers published in the Journal of Food Protection.
Among the lapses:
- Close to 70 percent of respondents said they wash or rinse their poultry before cooking it, which is risky since this can transfer bacteria onto kitchen surfaces and other foods if the poultry is contaminated. Poultry juices can splash more than two feet away, researchers have found. (The USDA recommends against rinsing raw poultry—proper cooking will kill bacteria.)
- More than 80 percent did not know how to properly refrigerate raw poultry. (It should be put on the bottom shelf—and in a plastic bag or sealed container in case the original packaging leaks.)
- Of the small number of people who said they thaw frozen poultry in cold water, only 11 percent do it safely. (It should be submerged in cold water in leak-proof packaging, and the water should be changed every 30 minutes. It also should be cooked immediately—which most people reported doing.) Of course, thawing poultry in the microwave is more common these days.
- Of the 62 percent who owned a food thermometer, fewer than 26 percent reported using it to check the internal temperature of small cuts of poultry and ground poultry. (Raw poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165°F to kill any bacteria.)
Americans did not flunk out in all respects, however. Here are some practices most people got right:
- Most shoppers knew to put packages of raw poultry (including raw ground poultry) in plastic bags before placing them in their carts—or to at least keep the poultry from touching other foods. Most also knew that raw poultry should be bagged separately from other foods at checkout.
- At home, nearly everyone reported using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw poultry, or washing or disinfecting the boards and utensils after preparing raw poultry, which helps prevent cross-contamination. And nearly all those who handle raw poultry said they wash their hands afterwards.
- Most reported refrigerating poultry leftovers within two hours of cooking (the pieces should be spread out in shallow containers for rapid cooling).
For more on poultry safety, go to the USDA's Chicken from Farm to Table.