Like other raw foods, poultry should be handled with care to minimize the risk of food borne illnesses. Most food borne illnesses are caused by storing foods at room temperature, cooking or reheating at too low of a temperature, or for too short of a time, keeping cooked foods at room temperature, washing hands improperly, using poor personal hygiene, and using the same utensils and serving dishes for raw and cooked foods.
Proper washing of hands and utensils is a crucial step in the prevention of food-related illnesses. Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds immediately before you start cooking and in between cooking tasks, dry them on clean towel. Use separate cutting boards for raw meats, cooked meats, vegetables and fruit.
Wash utensils with hot, soapy water after each use and allow drying completely. In addition, cutting boards should be rinsed with a dilute, freshly made chlorine bleach solution (1-tablespoon household bleach per 1-quart water).
Poultry should be kept refrigerated until preparation time. Defrost frozen chicken in the refrigerator, allowing up to 9 hours to defrost parts and about 24 hours to defrost a whole 4-pound chicken. Do not let raw poultry juices drip onto other foods in your refrigerator. If time is short, place poultry in an airtight bag in cold water for at least 2 hours (change water every 30 minutes to keep it cold) or defrost in the microwave and then cook immediately. Individually wrapped parts can be cooked straight from the freezer; be sure to allow about 50 percent more time for cooking.
Rinsing chicken before cooking is a matter of personal choice. If you rinse your chicken, scrub the sink with hot soapy water afterwards.
Because bacteria in raw foods can contaminate cooked foods, it's important to keep the two apart. Wash anything or surface thoroughly with soap and water that came in contact with raw chicken before using them for other items. Discard raw poultry marinades or boil them for at least 1 minute before serving them with cooked chicken or vegetables.
An important food safety rule to remember is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Most disease-causing bacteria are killed at temperatures above 140°F. To ensure all disease-causing bacteria are killed throughout unevenly shaped poultry pieces; internal temperature recommendations are slightly higher-165°-180° F., depending on the part. Bacteria are not killed at temperatures below 40°F., but low temperatures slow their growth. You should adjust your refrigerator to keep the temperature no higher than 40°F.
Cook foods completely in one step. Partial cooking may allow surviving bacteria to grow. Chicken should always be cooked well done. However, thorough cooking cannot make up for improper food handling. Some harmful bacteria release toxins that cannot be destroyed by heat.
Most foods can safely remain at temperatures between 40°F. and 140°F. for no more than 2 hours, including serving time and time cooling in the refrigerator. Foods kept in a chafing dish that is hotter than 140°F. can be held for about 4 hours. To chill cooked foods as quickly as possible, place them in a covered shallow pan or container in the refrigerator or freezer immediately after the meal is finished. Use the leftovers within 2 to 4 days. Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F.
Proper wrapping and storage help keep raw and cooked chicken at top quality.
1. Refrigerate fresh chicken in its original package in a low, cold part of the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Freeze uncooked chicken if it will not be used within that time.
2. For extra protection, place chicken in a plastic bag to separate it from other foods. Store it on a low shelf of the refrigerator so it does not drip onto other items in the refrigerator.
3. When freezing, wrap parts separately in foil or other freezer wrap. This makes it easy to defrost only the amount you need. Proper wrapping prevents "freezer burn," which results from contact with air.
4. Wrap cooked chicken well before storing in the refrigerator or freezer. The following guidelines show how long you can safely store raw and cooked chicken. To ensure it is at highest quality, storage longer than these times is not recommended.