It's protein-rich, has a neutral pH, is moist and has a hollow on the inside that stays warm for a long time after cooking – the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of germs. We're talking poultry. Chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.
Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus are but a few of the microbes that can be present in both raw and cooked poultry. Every year, thousands of people in all parts of the world experience severe symptoms of food poisoning after eating poultry.
To avoid food poisoning, poultry needs to be handled with great care, from the abattoir to the supermarket. Make sure that you don't get less than you paid for - follow these selection tips when you go poultry shopping:
- Keep it cold. Chicken is kept cold during distribution to retail stores to prevent the growth of bacteria and to increase the shelf life. Chicken should feel cold to the touch when purchased. Select fresh chicken just before checking out at the register and make the grocery store your last stop before going home.
- Prevent cross-contamination. Put packages of chicken in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage that could cross-contaminate other food or produce.
- Check the store's freezer. Make sure the freezer case is at zero degrees or below. Don’t buy frozen poultry stacked above the load line in the freezer or those packed in ice in the aisle displays.
- Avoid poultry with damaged wrappings. Exposure to air through damaged wrapping dehydrates the meat and impairs the quality.
- Read the label. A few years ago poultry could be sold as "fresh" even if it was frozen as solid as a block of ice. Make sure that poultry labelled "fresh" is still pliable and yields to the thumb when pressed. Raw poultry that are or have been frozen must be labelled "frozen" or "previously frozen".
- Know what to look out for. Plump, meaty bodies and clean skin, free of bruises, broken bones, feathers, cuts and discolouration are good quality attributes.
- Don’t mistake the pink liquid for blood. The pink liquid in packaged fresh chicken is mostly water that was absorbed by the chicken during the chilling process. Blood is removed from poultry during slaughter and only a small amount remains in the muscle tissue. An improperly bled chicken would have cherry red skin.
- Keep the temperature under 14 degrees Celsius. There are no increased microbiological risks associated with raw products maintained at 14 degrees Celsius or below.
The healthier option
The most important thing to remember about poultry is that the fat is located right underneath the skin and that it sticks to the skin. Therefore, it is important to remove the skin from your chicken breasts before cooking it.
Fat content of 85g chicken without skin:
|85 g chicken (light and dark meat, grilled)
Skinless, white meat is your healthiest choice in the poultry department. The white meat of the chicken or turkey contains much less fat than the dark meat. The white meat comes primarily from the breast and wings, while the dark meat comes from the thighs and drumsticks.
- Buy whole chickens and cut them into serving size pieces yourself – whole chicken is usually a better buy than chicken parts.
- A large chicken or turkey will provide twice as many servings as a smaller bird due to the larger proportion of meat to bone.
- Buy frozen poultry well in advance of when you plan to cook it. Bigger poultry, like turkey, takes a long time to thaw. In fact, it may take from one to three days. It's important to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator.
- Select the size chicken/turkey you need for the occasion or plan to save leftovers in the freezer.