Despite being one of the most popular things to eat, chicken also has the bad habit of causing seriously painful food poisoning when not prepared correctly. Even if you follow all of the most common indicators for being cooked through, the poultry can surprise you… and not in a good way.
According to new research, that’s because illness-causing bacteria can survive both in the core and on the surface of chicken after it appears to be totally done. The study came to this conclusion after observing more than 4,000 home cooks throughout Europe. Most participants relied on the color and texture of the meat, both inside and out, to determine its doneness. Researchers tested the same technique in their laboratory kitchens with chicken breasts they had injected with salmonella to see if the bacteria was really cooked out at those points.
They found the color of the meat changed at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit). Even when they allowed it to cook a bit longer to 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit), salmonella was still found in the bird — despite looking ready to eat.
Those temperatures are below the USDA’s recommendation of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, but how often do you actually use a meat thermometer while cooking chicken? The study found only a small fraction of their participants bothered with them, and they came with their own issues, like glitchy gadgets and false reads. Plus, even if the temperature is fine on the inside, bacteria could still be lingering on parts of the surfaces that weren’t properly heated through.
You might be thinking back on all of the chicken you’ve ever cooked right about now and wondering if you’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. Chances are you haven’t constantly felt sick after eating it, but that doesn’t mean the risk isn’t still there for future meals.
So, how do you make sure you’re doing the best to get rid of all the ickiness before chowing down? The study recommends heating all of the chicken surfaces, not just flipping the top and bottom. In this case, frying is a good thing! Or cooking the bird in a sauce that surrounds and seeps into it, either in the oven or in a pan, to heat the whole thing up. Also check that the inside looks fibrous, not glossy.
More research needs to be done based on these findings, but we can all do our best to keep our meals as safe and delicious as possible in the meantime.