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A lot of people love to cook. This is a wonderful and creative thing, especially popular amongst budget-lovers who are looking to only spend a certain dollar amount each week on meals. But just because you enjoy cooking and you prefer all your meals to be homemade doesn’t mean that you’re doing it all right. Potentially dangerous mistakes are not only possible but likely, especially when dealing with raw chicken. When handled improperly, raw chicken has the capability to leave you and your family sick for days with some serious tummy trouble. Here are 10 potential raw chicken mistakes that even the most experienced of cooks might be making with raw chicken products:
Thanks to the wonderful thing called “gravity,” chicken juices tend to leak downwards, dripping from packaging and soiling anything stored below them like fruits and vegetables that you may or may not serve cooked. Because of this, it’s possible to contaminate a large portion of the food in your refrigerator when chicken is improperly stored!
Try putting your raw chicken packages on a large plate, or inside a casserole dish, in order to catch any dripping juices. Additionally, try storing your chicken on the bottom of the fridge so that if anything leaks, there’s no food under to be contaminated.
Did you know that the process of unfreezing your chicken is one of the most dangerous (and most common) mistakes you can make with this protein? Room temperature is the worse temperature for raw poultry since bacteria (like Salmonella) multiplies quickest here. Instead of placing your frozen chicken in the sink to thaw, try thawing it in your fridge up to two days before you plan to use it. This will give the thickest parts of the chicken enough time to thaw without letting the outer parts get exposed to warm, bacteria-loving air.
Now, this might seem counterintuitive, especially with the last point standing, but here is the point: you don’t want to let chicken rest in room temperature for too long, but you also don’t want to cook it straight out of the fridge. Letting it sit on the counter for 10-15 minutes will help it cook evenly and reduce your chances of biting into portions of raw meat.
If you’re in the habit of giving your raw chicken any sort of bath before cooking, stop it. There’s an idea that this rinsing process is clearing away bacteria, such as Salmonella, but what’s more likely to be the case is that you are spreading bacteria. Research suggests that by rinsing your raw chicken, you might actually splash bacteria as far as three feet from the sink. So skip the bath. Cook the chicken per the packaging directions and you’ll eliminate any contamination.
Not Drying Chicken
So, skip the washing portion, but definitely partake in the drying process. Fluids from processing and packaging your chicken are usually washed in a saline solution in order to keep the chicken appearing moist, even while sitting on a shelf for days. This solution, however, can make your chicken soggy when cooking. Dab your chicken with paper towels in order to get beautiful browning and a crisp sear.
The marination process is an excellent way to add flavor into your chicken with remarkably minimal effort. However, if you’re leaving your chicken on the counter at room temperature to marinate for hours, then you just might be asking for food poisoning. Instead, try marinating your chicken in a ziplock bag or closed container and let it sit in the fridge until it’s closer to the time of cooking. Remember, any marinade that touched the raw chicken shouldn’t come into contact with anything else. If you used a ziplock bag, trash it; if you used a container, clean it thoroughly with soap and hot water.
Cross contamination happens when raw chicken comes into contact with other food items, which is especially common if the prepping and cooking space in your kitchen is limited or if you have small number of cutting boards. You might be tempted to reuse surfaces without cleaning them on order to keep from dirtying extra dishes or taking time to thoroughly clean a countertop, but don’t. Raw chicken should always be chopped on a seperate prep board using a separate knife than all other ingredients, and anything it touches should be thoroughly cleaned before using it to prepare anything else, otherwise you’re just inviting a bacterial infection. Cross contamination is possible even if you wipe your cutting board and knife off with a sanitizing towel since much of the bacteria is stronger and is in need of a high-temperature, high-powered wash.
This point is similar to the previous one. Don’t use the same pair of tongs to flip raw chicken in a pan as you use to toss a salad. Don’t use the same knife to slice raw chicken as you used to cut carrots. You need to dedicate certain utensils to handling your raw chicken and not use them on any other ingredient, or else you’re risking cross contamination. Wash them thoroughly after each use in order to prevent spreading raw juices.
Your hands touch everything–even raw chicken. This means that there is an extremely high risk of cross contamination if you don’t wash them! If you go from touching raw chicken, to your vegetables, to your refrigerator handle, to stove top, and so on, then each of these surfaces is likely to be contaminated with raw chicken juice. When you touch raw chicken, make sure to wash your hands immediately afterwards with warm water and soap, and when you dry them, do so on a clean towel and not on the one that you’ve been using to wipe up chicken juice.
If you’ve ever attempted to remove chicken skin by tugging at it with your hands, then you know how slippery it is. Not only is it sometimes smart to leave the skin on throughout the cooking process, but it’s also smart to remove it with a tool and not your fingers. Try using a paring knife, which is small and easy to handle, to remove any unwanted skin.
By: Abbey Ryan Elder, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)