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Preparing poultry: top tips for handling chicken

September 11, 2015

Over the years, studies have found that chicken is by far the most popular meat in Australia. According to the ABC, the average amount of chicken consumed each year is more than the consumption of lamb and beef combined.

However, it is important to remember that chicken comes with its own set of food safety risks. FSANZ has found instances of around 84% of chicken carcasses testing positive for Campylobacter – a bacteria responsible for causing gastroenteritis.

Fortunately, even if you unknowingly purchase chicken from the supermarket that has been contaminated with Campylobacter, or other forms of bacteria such as salmonella, you can still safely eat the meat as long as you store, handle and cook it properly.

Storing chicken properly

As chicken is high in protein it is considered a high-risk and perishable food. This means that there are strict guidelines when it comes to handling and preparing chicken.

When transporting or storing chicken it is important to ensure you take all reasonable precautions to keep it at the correct temperature. If the chicken is chilled it must be kept under 5 degrees Celsius and if frozen it must be kept under – 15 degrees Celsius.

For food that remains outside these safe temperature levels there is the 2 – 4 Hour Rule. Due to the high-risk nature of both raw and cooked chicken, it is essential to follow these rules.

It means that if perishable food remains above 5 degrees Celsius for less than 2 hours it can be re-chilled, consumed or discarded. If perishable food remains above 5 degrees Celsius for between 2 and 4 hours, it must be consumed or discarded. However if perishable food remains above 5 degrees Celsius for 4 hours or more, it can only be discarded.

Preparing chicken properly

When it comes to handling and preparing chicken one of the most important things to watch out for is cross-contamination. This refers to bacteria or other harmful contaminants being transferred from one surface to another – typically via chopping boards, utensils, bench tops or an individual’s hands.

It is essential that you carefully wash, and if possible sanitise, all surfaces and equipment used when preparing chicken. Never use the same utensil with raw and cooked chicken. Food handlers must also thoroughly wash their hands every time they begin another food handling task.

Another important rule to follow is not to wash chicken. As mentioned, campylobacter is often present on raw chicken so by washing it you are more likely to be spreading the bacteria all over the sink, which can easily lead to cross-contamination and illness.

Cooking and serving chicken properly

When cooking or reheating chicken, the main aim is to ensure that the meat is cooked all the way to the centre. It needs to be cooked at a high enough temperature to ensure dangerous bacteria are destroyed. People handling chicken may decide to use a food thermometer to check the interior temperature at the thickest part of the meat – which should be at 75 degrees Celsius.

It is important to keep in mind that time needed to cook chicken will depend on the size and the cut. The best way to determine if chicken has been thoroughly cooked is by checking to see that the meat is no longer pink on the inside and any juices run clear.

Chicken and a balanced diet

Chicken is a popular option for any meal because it is a nutritious food that is high in protein but low in fat and cholesterol. It contributes to a balanced diet and although if incorrectly handled or prepared it can cause illness, we should not avoid eating it. By following these simple rules, you are able to reduce the risk of causing illness and you and your family can safely enjoy this healthy food.