Chicken is one of the most consumed meats in Spain, is versatile, can be used in countless delicious culinary preparations, is economical and very easy to prepare. Despite this, and also because of its nutritional properties – an excellent source of essential amino acids and a low concentration of fat – we are faced with a common choice in the kitchen.
But chicken has another, less positive characteristic: It can be contaminated with different bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause illnesses like campylobacteriosis or salmonellosis. Chickens in particular, and birds in general, carry a host of microorganisms on their skin, feathers, and guts that, if not eliminated through cooking, can eventually cause problems for us.
Campylobacter and Salmonella are the two main bacteria found in raw chicken
First, birds are one of the major reservoirs of bacteria. Campylobacter In most cases, the bacterium usually appears after the animals are born because many chickens on the farm are infected with the bacterium, which is easily spread from one bird through contaminated water sources or contact with infected feces. to another bird.
In the slaughterhouse it can also be passed from the intestines into the meat. This may explain why the most common routes of infection are through the consumption of meat from carrier animals and unpasteurized milk.
Many times birds will not develop the disease or show symptoms. The main routes of transmission to humans are through consumption of undercooked contaminated food (such as chicken) and contaminated water or raw milk.
According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), chicken may account for 20% to 30% of human campylobacteriosis cases in the EU.Experts admit CampylobacterPathogens that are easily transmitted through handling and eating chicken continue to be responsible for the most cases of food poisoning. Symptoms usually appear two to five days after infection and are typically diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fever.
Another common pathogen in chicken is Salmonella Enteritidis In addition to being found in poultry and eggs, it is also found in the intestines of livestock. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), salmonella It causes more foodborne illnesses than any other bacterium, and chicken is the primary source of these illnesses.
Symptoms of this infection appear within a few hours or up to six days after infection, and most people recover after four to seven days.
These two bacteria often cause illness with symptoms similar to gastroenteritis and in most cases work well.
In addition to these two bacteria, we can also find Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Listeria.
Three keys to reducing risk: Cook, refrigerate, don’t wash
Undercooking meat, keeping it refrigerated properly, and not washing it are three main things we can do to help us avoid surprises when eating chicken.
To avoid chicken poisoning, it is necessary to limit the ability of bacteria to multiply or to eliminate them completely. The most effective method is to cook food thoroughly.Although some species Campylobacter The most pathogenic species are thermotolerant; they can be considered heat-sensitive since they cannot survive thermal treatments above 60°C.
The smartest thing to do is to achieve a core temperature of 75°C in the thickest part of the meat. We can check using a kitchen thermometer or, if we don’t have a thermometer, pay attention to two factors: the color of the meat and the juices coming out of the chicken.
A simple rule of thumb is that cooked chicken will be white, while raw or undercooked chicken will be pink or even bloody. We can also make a small cut in the thickest part of the bird, if it still looks pink or bloody then it’s probably still raw. If the juice is still pink, it’s better to pass it through the pan again.
We must remember that chicken sealed on the outside eliminates possible bacteria on the surface, but not in the center or in areas that have not reached the necessary temperature. Frying, baking or roasting are the most effective ways to destroy bacteria.
Refrigerate at the right temperature and in the right area
Pathogenic microorganisms in raw chicken thrive well in the temperature range of 4°C to 60°C. Therefore, refrigeration is crucial to avoid risks with fresh food. For chicken, we have to refrigerate it at a temperature of around 4°C for up to two days.
Be sure to handle the chicken carefully at this time and store it in the lower part of the refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping and contaminating other foods – raw poultry can spread pathogens if it comes into contact with juices from raw poultry. Other foods -.
If we are not going to eat the chicken within two days, it is best to freeze it. We can use the original packaging for thawing and make sure to do it in the refrigerator and not at room temperature.
Do not wash before cooking
A common practice that is usually done with chicken is to wash it raw before cooking. However, we should give up this habit because bacteria can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. We must remember that washing chicken with water will not eliminate these bacteria, it will only spread them more.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, one in seven people who cleaned their sink after washing their chicken still found bacteria in it.The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) warned several years ago that such Campylobacter They are spread through splashes and small water droplets during cleaning.
Experts recommend washing your hands when handling chicken and making sure it is cooked, but not before cooking to avoid spreading the virus. Campylobacter Due to cross contamination.