I love to cook and eat chicken, but chicken is a potentially hazardous food if handled improperly. It even scares me. About one in four pieces of raw chicken carry salmonella. Salmonella from poultry sickens over 200,000 Americans a year, according to USDA food safety data.
Chicken and the juices found inside the package is a perfect environment for the growth of salmonella and other bacteria. Additionally, chicken and chicken dishes can become hazardous if not handled properly. It is my hope to provide you with a few guidelines to safely handle chicken, before and after it is cooked. These same guidelines can be applied to other raw foods as well.
Handling chicken properly and cooking it correctly should kill salmonella. However, the findings of a recent study I conducted, it is clear that people often make mistakes that can cause them to unknowingly contaminate their own kitchen. This is what creeps-me-out, and I’m relieved, food-safety has always been a beginning teach-point when I work with culinary students.
The primary condition required for bacteria to live and be happy is between 40’F and 140’F. Anytime food falls in this temperature range, bad bacteria can grow comfortably. Professionals call it, “The Danger Zone. If food sits for a long period of time in the danger zone, bacteria will begin to grow rapidly. So, be safe and protect your family. It’s important to keep the temperature of uncooked chicken below 40’F degrees. Once the chicken is cooked, but not refrigerated- it should be stored above 140’F degrees.
As mentioned, I performed my own poultry handling-fact-finding study. I sent questionnaires to thirty households. Those that participated in the study seemed to know how to handle raw poultry based on their responses to the questionnaire. But when it came to observe them in a cooking class (The hands on portion of my study) on the actual prepping of raw chicken- all of the individuals were observed making mistakes that risked spreading salmonella around counters, counter tops, work surfaces, sinks or utensils.
The data I collected proved to me, many people are simply not aware how they are cross-contaminating their kitchen surfaces at home. But how could they know, they are not professionally trained on food safety, and they cannot see the bacteria- so how would they notice.Its a simple mistake we all make. Most of them just mopped up the juice on the counter with the sponge they later wash the dishes with. Did you just cringe?
The other subject that is like nails-on-a-chalkboard is… cross contamination.This is how people unknowingly spread bacteria. In the kitchen, with raw chicken it’s really easy to do. The contamination of other foods such as fruits and vegetables coming in contact with raw chicken or its juices is an additional threat. Be sure and wash all utensils and all surfaces that might have come in contact with the chicken or its juices. Use hot, soapy water and if you are really crazy about a clean kitchen, you can make a solution containing a gallon of water mixed with 1 to 2 oz. of bleach.
After washing your work surfaces with soapy hot water, I strongly recommend spraying the stovetop, countertops, and the sinks with a high pH balanced cleanser- (like the bleach water described above) that will kill bacteria on contact. Vinegars will work too. I’m usually teased by my colleagues- that my favorite perfume is, “Eau de’ Bleach”- because I use it so much.
Leftovers… I love leftovers… My Mom would cook for my Dad and after dinner she would leave the leftovers out on top of the stove. My Dad would get up in the middle of the night and graze. Now that I’m a food professional- I think back and wonder if my pops ever had to run to the bathroom the next morning. That habit is just CRAZY! No matter how tired I am after dinner, I always store leftovers in an airtight container, pop right into the fridge.
The safest bet is to always, keep hot food hot, and cold foods, cold. Food borne bacteria can also harm the elderly and children much quicker than a healthy sized adult, or anyone with a compromised immune system. Keep your family safe.There are simply too many other things we need to worry about these days- don’t fall victim to a microscopic bug.
Plan ahead, thaw frozen foods in a controlled environment- (the fridge). Clean as you go, use proper refrigeration and cooking temperatures, and don’t leave food sitting out in warm environments. This will not only keep foods safer, but protect the quality and nutritional value as well.
Chef Gigi Gaggero is recognized nationally as an expert in culinary education and has coached thousands of children and their families how to shop, prep, cook and eat better. Co-author of, “Learning with Little Lulu Lemon” and has been featured on Radio Disney and Bay Area local television broadcast with Spencer Christian, on NBC’s “View from the Bay” and CBS, “Eye on the Bay”. Currently publishing additional works including,”The Fun Filled Cooking Party Guide” for children’s parties – and ” Food Fight, for Parents of Picky Eaters” is expected to become a pantry staple for parents!