Summer is right around the corner and chances are you’re dying to bite into your first big piece of juicy grilled chicken. Chicken is by far the most popular source of protein in the U.S. The USDA reports that Americans consume 92 pounds of chicken per person per year. But all of that poultry comes with a dirty little secret — chicken is far more likely to make you sick than any other food.
The CDC estimates that every year about a million people get sick from eating contaminated poultry. Salmonella and campylobacter are the two most common causes of foodborne illness — both commonly spread through animal feces.
Salmonella can come from a variety of foods including eggs, meat, dairy, or produce, but campylobacter is pretty strictly tied to chicken. The USDA reported that from April 2018 through March 2019, 22% of production plants did not meet standards set for limiting salmonella in chicken products.
And that’s bad news for consumers.
The good news is that food poisoning can almost always be avoided with proper care and cooking temperature.
When it comes to handling raw chicken, experts advise that you always wash your hands with hot, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after. Never wash raw chicken, since the juices can splash and contaminate other foods, towels, or utensils nearby. And always use separate cutting boards for raw meat, being sure to thoroughly wash any surfaces with antibacterial soap.
Foodborne illness-causing bacteria on the meat itself can be killed by cooking chicken to a safe internal temperature of 165ºF. Use a food thermometer to ensure safety.
If you’ve ordered chicken at a restaurant and it’s not fully cooked, always send it back.
And always refrigerate leftover chicken within 2 hours (or within 1 hour if it’s a particularly hot day).
According to a recent report from the CDC, food poisoning announcements and recalls have been increasing over the last few years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that food is getting less safe, it just means that new tools and tests put in place to identify potential issues and outbreaks are effective.
So take food safety seriously. If you see a warning about a particular food, or know a food, like chicken, has a strong likelihood of causing illness if not cooked properly, take extra precautions.