Chicken and Food Safety: An Easy Guide
Bacteria are everywhere, and while most are harmless or even beneficial to humans, others can make you sick. All foods, including meat, fruits, and vegetables have the potential to cause food-borne illness. The unfortunate truth is that most North American homes don’t exercise good food safety practices at home and over 80% of all cases of food-borne illness can be prevented by handing food properly. The responsibility for safe food falls on everyone in the food system. We are committed to continually improving our farming and production practices, while continuing to provide Canadians with a stable, safe food supply. At home, safeguarding the health of yourself and your family is easy to do. Just follow these few tips for keeping food-borne illness at bay.
Proper cleaning practices are the most effective way to keep bacteria out of the kitchen. Follow these rules at home and teach them to your family so that everyone in the house can stay clear of food-borne illness.
- Wash your hands. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before handling food and after handing meat, poultry, eggs and seafood. Always be sure to wash your hands after touching pets or using the washroom.
- Clean your work area. Clean and sanitize counter tops, cutting boards and utensils with a mild bleach solution (5 mL or 1 tsp. of bleach per 750 mL or 3 cups of water), before and after food preparation.
- Wash your produce. Thoroughly wash fresh produce under running water to remove dirt and residue. Some produce tends to retain more dirt than others, so be sure to check it carefully to avoid grit in your food.
- Cut away bruised areas. Bruised areas on produce can give bacteria an environment to thrive. Cut away damaged areas of fruit and vegetables before using.
- Wash out lunchboxes every night. Lunch boxes and bags can incubate bacteria if not kept clean. Wash them out every night to prevent contaminating lunches.
Remember, you can’t see, smell or taste bacteria, so keep your kitchen clean to keep it safe.
Improper handling of raw meat, poultry, and seafood can result in cross-contamination, causing bacteria to spread from food to food or to other surfaces. That’s why it’s important to separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood both in your cart and in your refrigerator.
- Use two cutting boards. If possible, use one cutting board for produce and one for meat. If you’re cooking more than one protein at a time, keep them separate and wash your cutting board thoroughly in between preparing the two. Plastic cutting boards can be safely sanitized in the dishwasher.
- Seal raw meat. Keep raw meat, poultry, and fish in a sealed container on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping onto other food.
- Keep your plates clean. Never place cooked food back onto the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.
- Discard used marinades. Liquids used to marinade raw meat, poultry, or seafood should not be used on cooked foods. If you want to baste your meat while cooking, or use it as a sauce, reserve some marinade at the beginning and make sure it does not come in contact with raw product.
Chilling raw food goes without saying but improper thawing or waiting too long to get food into the refrigerator can result in bacteria growth in food. Follow these simple steps in your home to keep bacteria at bay.
- Refrigerate or freeze within two hours. It’s important that raw food, especially meat, poultry, and seafood, is refrigerated promptly. To make sure you get it into the fridge in time, try to make groceries your last stop when you’re running errands if possible and always pick up your meat last. To really preserve raw food, especially on hot days in the car, bring an insulated bag with a freezer pack inside so that you can chill it instantly.
- Never defrost at room temperature. Always defrost food in your fridge, in your microwave, or in cold water to prevent bacteria growth. If you’re thawing in cold water, be sure to replace the water every 30 minutes.
- Separate large leftovers. Store your large leftover batches in small, shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator, or for quicker thawing if you’re storing them in the freezer.
- Freeze it properly. When you freeze chicken, be sure to take the proper steps to avoid freezer burn. Chill individual pieces in the freezer, then wrap each of them in plastic wrap. Place the individually wrapped pieces in a resealable freezer bag, removing as much air as possible before sealing. This will not only improve the taste of the thawed chicken but will make it easier to thaw individual pieces as needed.
- Keep an eye on the date. It’s important to know when an ingredient went into your fridge or freezer so that you know when it has to come out. Fresh chicken can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 days, and ground chicken should be used within one day. In the freezer, chicken pieces can be kept frozen for up to six months without sacrificing quality and a whole chicken for up to a year.
- If you’re ever in doubt as to whether an ingredient is good or not, the safest bet is to throw it out.
For easy everyday reference, download our printable reference chart of refrigerating and freezing tips here.
Cooking times vary for all meat, but chicken should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165ºF for chicken pieces and patties, and 185ºF for a whole chicken. If you’re stuck without a thermometer, pierce the chicken with a fork. It should go in with ease and the juices should run clear. The chicken should show no pink when cut with a knife.
- Keep it hot. When you’re serving food buffet-style, always be sure to keep it hot (at 60ºC or 140ºF) using a chafing dish, crock pot, or warming tray. Keep all soups, chili, and hot dips piping hot before serving.
- Use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if meat is cooked through simply by looking at it and the most reliable way to avoid under- or over-cooking your chicken is with a digital instant-read thermometer. Insert the thermometer in different spots to ensure even cooking and always be sure to wash your food thermometer with soap and water before using it again.
- Insulate when traveling. If you’re taking a hot dish to a party or to work, be sure to keep it hot until the moment you leave and then ensure that it stays that way by carrying it in an insulated thermal container. Ensure that the dish is not left at room temperature for more than one hour.
- Cook to safe temperatures. Use our cooking times and temperatures chart to find out the right temperature for chicken or visit the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education website for more cooking times and charts.
- For easy cooking reference, download our printable cooking times and temperatures chart.