12 Kitchen Safety Tips for Handling Poultry

It’s summer and barbecue time, and let’s face it, chicken goes on the grill right behind hamburgers and hot dogs.  Chicken, however, is not as safe to handle as beef (although beef certainly can carry bacteria as well, and most of the same rules apply to other eat besides chicken).  So here are some tips to keep in mind when preparing chicken in your kitchen.  Keep in mind that up to 25% of raw poultry may carry salmonella, and other bacteria like campylobacter too.

  1. New research says do not rinse off chicken before preparing it.  I know, sometimes it just feels slimy.  But when you wash it, all the bacteria on the skin and flesh get washed into your sink, and the dripping water contaminates the counter surfaces.
  2. Wash you hands frequently while handling the chicken, and always before touching something else.
  3. Wash a cutting board in between cutting chicken and any other food source.  Even better, have one cutting board dedicated just to poultry.  I keep an Epicurean cutting board handy for chicken.  It’s made of sustainable sourced surface trees from managed forests.  It comes in a couple sizes and colors,is not that expensive, and washed well without needing to be bleached.  It’s also easier on the knives than something hard like ceramic or glass.

    Epicurean cutting board






Ditto for the knives used to cut the chicken, and any other implements used.  Wash well in hot soapy water before using on any other food.  Cross contamination is the biggest mistake in kitchen safety when working around poultry.  Clean counters with a disinfectant.

4.  Prevent cross contamination in the refrigerator too.  Poultry packages often leak juice, so place them on a plate or in a dish, or seal up in a large plastic bag while storing.  and if chicken juice leaks in the fridge, wash everywhere.  I once had a package leak all over the shelf, and drip down onto the glass top over the produce drawers….and yes, it ran down into them as well.  Every part of the refrigerator had to be taken apart to get it all clean.  I learned the lesson that day!  Raw chicken will only keep a couple days in the fridge before starting to spoil.

5. Chicken/poultry needs to be cooked thoroughly to 165 degrees F to be safe to eat.  People with suppressed immune systems (like me with RA), young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible.  Use a thermometer to check for doneness, in the meatiest part of the thigh or breast.

6. Do not put cook poultry back onto a platter which held raw poultry – that’s another way to cross contaminate the product.

7. Practice chicken safety when shopping too – put packages in the plastic bags many stores provide.  Pick it up out of thee refrigerated section last before leaving the store.  If you have a ways to travel, or other stops, but chicken packages into a cooler chest or bag.  If you put chicken packages in reusable canvas bags, plan to wash them (it’s a good idea anyway, because all kinds of bacteria can come off produce and packaged goods as well.)

8. Check the “use by date” on the package and either use it or freeze it before the date.  The date is there for a reason.  Poultry can grow bacteria on it quickly and a “smell test” may not be enough to tell you its no longer safe to eat.

9. Once cooked, do not leave chicken setting out at room temperature any longer than 2 hours.

10.  If you freeze the chicken after purchase, wrap up well or put into zip-lock bags, squeezing out all the air possible, to prevent freezer burn.  Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, not on the counter, or in a tub of cool water.

11. And frozen chicken should never be put in a slow cooker –  a slow cooker/crock pot does not maintain a high enough temperature to kill bacteria as the chicken defrosts inside.

12.  Do not reuse any marinade the chicken was held in.  If you want to baste, make more marinade or set some aside form the original batch.  Otherwise you are taking possible contaminated liquid and putting it right back onto partially cooked chicken when you baste.