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Chicken & Poultry Safety Tips

Handling, Cooking & Storing Guidelines


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How to Handle Chicken Safely

Raw chicken and poultry can carry the salmonella bacteria, which is responsible for more cases of food poisoning than any other pathogen. Fortunately it's easy to avoid getting sick from chicken and poultry, as long as you follow safe food handling practices.

Safe Shopping for Chicken & Poultry

During distribution to retail stores, fresh chicken is kept cold in order to extend its shelf life as well as to prevent bacteria growth. Packages of chicken should feel cold to the touch, and should be among the last items you select before checking out.

Packages of chicken should be wrapped in plastic bags to prevent leakage onto other items in your grocery cart.

Once you're home, you should immediately place your chicken in a refrigerator that maintains a temperature of 40°F or colder, and use it within 2 days. Otherwise, it should be frozen at 0°F.

Thawing Frozen Chicken & Poultry Safely

First of all, never defrost chicken on the counter or the microwave! It's not uncommon to see various sources suggesting that it's acceptable to thaw frozen meat or poultry in the microwave. It's not. Ever. Not under any circumstances!

The correct way to thaw frozen poultry requires planning ahead for the time required to thaw it in the refrigerator. Whole chickens may take up to 2 days to fully thaw in this way, while boneless breasts should thaw overnight. Once the product thaws, it should be kept in the refrigerator no more than a day before cooking it.

Safe Handling of Chicken & Poultry

Just like meat, fish or any animal-based food product, raw or undercooked chicken carry certain bacteria. These bacteria can cause illness in large numbers.

Therefore, to avoid illness we need to limit bacteria's ability to multiply, or kill them altogether. Limiting their ability to multiply requires making sure that food products are not left at room temperatures — or specifically, temperatures between 40°F and 140°F — for more than an hour.

And remember, freezing doesn't kill bacteria, either — it just makes them cold. The only way to kill food-borne pathogens is by thoroughly cooking the food.

Another concern with respect to working with uncooked poultry is cross-contamination. Cross-contamination can happen when raw poultry — or even just its juices — somehow come into contact with any other food products but especially ones that are already cooked or ones that will be eaten raw, such as salad vegetables or greens.

An example of how this can happen is if a cook were to cut raw chicken on a cutting board and then later slice fresh tomatoes on the same board without washing it first.

Approximate Chicken Cooking Times

The following table gives approximate cooking times for different chicken types and cooking methods:

Type of Chicken Weight Roasting at 350°F Simmering Grilling
Whole Broiler/Fryer 3-4 lbs. 1¼-1½ hrs. Not suitable 60-75 min.
Whole Roasting Hen 3-4 lbs. 1¼-1½ hrs. Not suitable 60-75 min.
Whole Capon 4-8 lbs. 2-3 hrs. Not suitable 15-20 min./lb.
Whole Cornish Hens 18-24 oz. 50-60 min. 35-40 min. 45-55 min.
Breast Halves, bone-in 6-8 oz. 30-40 min. 35-45 min. 10-15 min./side
Breast Half, boneless 4 oz. 20-30 min. 25-30 min. 6-8 min./side
Legs or thighs 8 or 4 oz. 40-50 min. 40-50 min. 10-15 min./side
Drumsticks 4 oz. 35-45 min. 40-50 min. 8-12 min./side
Wings or wingettes 2-3 oz. 30-40 min. 35-45 min. 8-12 min./side

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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