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Handling Chicken Safely

Improper handling of raw poultry can set the stage for cross-contamination — the spread of salmonella bacteria from foods, hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces to another food. Here's how to stop it.
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At the Store

The key to safe and delicious chicken is buying it fresh (or frozen-fresh), free of preservatives and additives, then getting it home quickly.

  • Buy your chicken last. If your trip home takes longer than 30 minutes, bring a cooler to keep the meat cool.
  • Separate raw meat from ready-to-eat foods in your shopping cart. Consider placing raw foods inside plastic bags in your shopping cart to keep the juices contained.

When You Get Home

  • Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling raw chicken.
  • Sanitize kitchen countertops that come into contact with raw chicken. One teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of clean water will sanitize surfaces. Leave the solution on the surface for about 10 minutes to be effective.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water after contact with raw chicken.
  • Refrigerate or freeze your chicken as soon as possible after purchasing. Prevent raw chicken juices from dripping onto other foods by placing raw foods in sealed containers or sealable plastic bags.
  • Fresh, raw chicken can be stored in its original wrap for up to two days in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Check your refrigerator temperature to be certain it's within safe ranges for chicken storage. When in doubt, freeze any chicken you aren't going to cook within a day
  • Freeze chicken immediately if you don’t plan to use it within two days after purchase. You can safely freeze most chicken in its original packaging for up to two months. If you plan to freeze it longer, consider double-wrapping or rewrapping with freezer paper, aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Airtight packaging is key to freezing chicken successfully.
  • Label each package with the date, name of chicken cut and weight or number of servings. Practice the FIFO inventory system: first in, first out.
  • When freezing whole chickens, remove and rinse giblets (if any) and pat dry with paper towels. Trim away any excess fat from the chicken. Tightly wrap, label, date, and freeze both chicken and giblets in separate freezer-strength plastic, paper, or foil wraps.
  • Stocking the freezer with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs can be a real timesaver. Divide the chicken into efficient, meal-size portions and package for freezing.

Defrosting Chicken

  • Thaw frozen chicken, wrapped, in the refrigerator. Never thaw chicken on the kitchen counter; this promotes bacterial growth.
  • Thawing times for frozen chicken vary depending on how thoroughly frozen the chicken is and whether the chicken is whole or cut up. A general guideline is to allow 24 hours thawing time for a 5 lb. whole chicken and about 5 hours per pound for chicken pieces.

Before You Cook: S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E

  • Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels before cooking; cutting boards and knives must be washed in hot soapy water after using and hands must be washed before and after handling.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for raw chicken and another for fresh fruits and vegetables. If two cutting boards aren't available, prepare fruits and vegetables first, and put them safely out of the way. Wash the cutting board thoroughly with soap and hot water. Then, prepare the raw chicken. Follow by washing the cutting board again.
  • Don't reuse marinades on cooked foods unless you boil them first. Marinades used on raw meat can contain harmful bacteria.
  • Never taste uncooked marinade or sauce that was used to marinate raw meat.
  • Place cooked food on a clean plate for serving. If cooked food is placed on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked food.
  • Cook chicken completely to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Never cook chicken partially and then store it to be finished later, since this promotes bacterial growth.


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