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The do's and don'ts of chicken meat and food safety

Chicken tartare, carpaccio or sashimi, anyone? New! Most of us understand not to eat raw chicken and why, but with the holidays approaching and many of us cooking for friends and family, it's a timely reminder to look at the do's and don'ts involved. on raw chicken meat and food safety.

1. DO NOT wash raw chicken before cooking

Raw chicken meat doesn't need to be washed before cooking, but most importantly, it shouldn't be washed! Washing raw chicken puts you at risk of chicken juices and any associated kitchen bacteria spilling onto countertops, ready-to-eat foods, and utensils. Modern chicken processing conditions allow raw chicken meat to reach your home with as little bacteria on it as possible, but some bacteria may still be present. Washing chicken creates a potential for cross-contamination in the kitchen and cross-contamination is a major cause of foodborne illness. It is important to ensure that all items that come into contact with raw food are washed...especially hands.

2. Cook chicken thoroughly

All the time! Thorough cooking of chicken will easily kill the bacteria of concern in a food safety context that could potentially be associated with chicken. To check, if you have a food thermometer it should reach at least 75°C when inserted into the deepest (thickest) part of the meat; if you don't have a food thermometer the juices should be clear (not pink) when you pierce the meat with a fork or skewer into the thickest part of the meat and the color of the meat should be a consistent white when cut in half at the thickest point.

3. DO NOT thaw frozen chicken on the counter

Never! Raw chicken meat should always be thawed below 5°C, usually in the refrigerator or microwave. The microwave is fastest, but can affect the quality of the chicken if you're not careful. The easiest way is to gradually thaw the chicken in the refrigerator overnight, as this will preserve the safety and quality of the meat. To avoid cross-contamination with other foods in the refrigerator, place the meat in a bowl that prevents juices from dripping onto other food items and/or put it on the bottom shelf.

4. WASH your hands…boards, hands, knives, bins…

While the risk of chicken meat itself is gone after cooking (assuming it has been thoroughly cooked and consumed or refrigerated), cross-contamination still exists from anything that came into contact with the raw meat before cooking. So things like knives, cutting boards and especially hands and anything they've touched like dish towels can still harbor bacteria from the raw meat present on them. It's easy to see how the bacteria from these things can be transferred to foods that are consumed raw (such as salads) or foods that have already been cooked, and because there is no extra cooking step to kill the bacteria, the food is cooked along with any contaminating bacteria eaten! So either have utensils and plates specifically for raw meat or clean them immediately after use for raw meat and for use on something else. But always wash your hands!

5. DO NOT allow raw chicken meat to come into contact with other foods in the refrigerator

Cross-contamination is possible not only during cooking in the kitchen, but also during food storage. Always separate raw chicken and other foods in the refrigerator so raw chicken juices cannot drip, spill or otherwise come into contact with other foods.

6. It's okay to refreeze thawed chicken

Yes, of course! It is safe to return thawed chicken to the freezer, but only if the chicken has been thawed as described in 3 above and has not 'thawed' at this temperature for more than 24 hours. The myth that it is not safe to refreeze thawed chicken meat stems from two confusing things:quality and safety. While it is safe to return chicken thawed below 5°C to the freezer, freezing and refreezing chicken can lead to a deterioration in the quality (taste and texture) of the meat.