Chicken is one of the most popular meats in the world. In fact, according to the USDA, the United States produced approximately 43.5 billion pounds of chicken in 2020 alone.
It is a versatile source of protein and many nutrients. But more than that, it is also affordable and easy to prepare, so it is a great choice of meat for those who are trying to learn how to cook.
However, there are some things that you have to keep in mind to ensure your chicken turns out safe and delicious, which includes proper storage and handling.
Chicken, like any other type of meat, can quickly develop harmful bacteria when left at room temperature for an extended period of time.
So if you accidentally left some raw chicken out of the fridge for eight hours, you would be better off throwing it away as it is no longer safe to consume.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that chicken should be refrigerated within 1 to 2 hours of purchase from the supermarket. The hotter it is outside, the sooner you have to put it in the fridge to keep it from spoiling and free from bacteria.
This guide will provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions so you can confidently prepare and enjoy chicken dishes. So whether you are a seasoned home cook or just starting to figure things out on your own in the kitchen, read on to learn more.
The Dangers of Leaving Chicken at Room Temperature
Learning how to cook chicken is a vital part of everyone’s cooking journey. But like with any other perishable food, it requires proper handling, or the risks listed below could ruin your experience and pose a danger to your health.
1. Food Poisoning
If left unrefrigerated, raw chicken can quickly become contaminated with dust and harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.
As such, cooking and eating chicken that has been left out at room temperature for too long can result in food poisoning.
Its symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. But in some cases, like for those with a particularly weak immune system, it can be severe enough to require hospitalization.
So if you are experiencing any of those symptoms, do not hesitate to consult a medical professional and get yourself checked up if necessary.
2. Faster Spoilage Time
The growth and spread of bacteria also mean that leaving your chicken out of the fridge for quite some time will cause it to spoil faster than normal.
After the two-hour mark, the window for the safe consumption of chicken becomes smaller. It is even worse during hot weather when the temperature inside your house could be higher than usual.
When chicken spoils, it develops a foul smell and slimy texture. So if you notice any of these signs, discard your chicken immediately.
3. Risk of Cross-Contamination
Raw chicken that has been left out of the fridge can also cross-contaminate other cooking surfaces and utensils that come into contact with it.
Blood and other raw juices will spread around your sinks and countertops as the chicken thaws, spreading harmful bacteria all over your kitchen.
Proper Handling and Storage of Raw Chicken
In order to prevent the risks associated with raw, unrefrigerated chickens that were mentioned above, here are some proper handling tips and storage techniques that you should practice in the kitchen.
Raw chicken should be refrigerated immediately after purchasing it from the supermarket. The ideal fridge temperature for chicken storage is below 40°F (4°C).
But if you aren’t using the chicken in your dishes within the next two days, it should be frozen at 0°F or -18°C instead.
Freezing will keep your chicken safe for several months, but you should expect a gradual change in its quality the longer you keep it on the ice.
Just make sure to use freezer-safe containers or resealable plastic bags so you can avoid damaging the chicken with freezer burn.
It is also recommended to store the chicken in portion-sized packages with labels so that you can only thaw what you need for a specific recipe.
If you want to thaw frozen chicken, it is best to put it in the fridge for about 24 hours until the ice has melted.
But if you need to use it in a dish sooner, you can use the microwave or place the chicken in a sealed plastic bag and submerge it in the water.
So long as you avoid thawing your chicken at room temperature, there are fewer chances of it developing bacteria and posing a risk to your health.
When cooking chicken, it is important to ensure that it reaches the proper temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.
According to the USDA, the internal temperature for chicken should reach 165°F (74°C) to ensure that it’s cooked thoroughly.
For thick cuts of chicken, it is advisable to use a food thermometer. But for pieces such as breasts or thighs, making sure that they are cooked evenly is enough, as long as you remember to adjust the cooking time depending on their thickness.
By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your chicken is safe to eat, reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Cooking chicken is a staple in many households, but it is important to be aware of the risks involved in mishandling and storing it.
Doing so will allow you to enjoy the taste of perfectly cooked chicken while also having peace of mind that it has been prepared in a safe and healthy way.
With these guidelines, you can confidently explore the vast range of dishes that can be made with this versatile and nutritious meat.