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Raw Chicken on the Menu? I’ll Pass!

Posted in Campylobacter,Salmonella on August 26, 2018

How would you like that cooked?  “Rare, please.”  Sounds like an order for steak, right?  Depends on the restaurant.  Some high-end eateries are serving up chicken, sashimi style.  Can you do that?  Is it safe?  The chefs claim it is, but I am skeptical.  Salmonella is real and very serious.

Ippuku Claims Technique is Everything

The restaurant Ippuku serves up poultry sashimi as a regular menu item.  Chef Christian Geiderman was inspired by the Tokyo restaurant, Nagomi where poultry sashimi is commonplace.  In fact, many big cities in Japan like Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo are home to upscale yakitori places where sashimi is a general menu item.

According to Ippuku chef (and founder) Christian Geiderman, knowing the farm, sourcing from small farms, and fresh processing onsite is how they achieve a safer poultry sashimi.  “Freshness is really the key,” says Geiderman.  “Our chickens come in with the heads and feet on, and the rigor mortis is still so fresh in them that you can stand the chickens up by their legs.”  The precision chefs process the chicken right there at the kitchen.  After a quick five to ten second bath in boiling water, the chicken is ready to serve.  This method cooks the chicken just long enough for the outside to turn slightly white.  Geiderman explains that the “mouthfeel” is similar to that of raw tuna and describes the taste as close to the flavor or yellowfin or bigeye.

Is there a Safe Way to Process the Chicken So That It Can Be Eaten Raw?

After my initial gag reflex subsided, I got to thinking about ways that chicken might be processed that would minimize the risk of foodborne illness.  Because honestly, I instantly link raw chicken with hours of sitting in the bathroom on the toilet with a trash can in front of me, praying to the porcelain gods to make it stop.  With so many people eating this dish and not becoming sick, I am guessing there must be a way to handle the meat prior to serving to at the very least minimize risk.

My first thought went to cold pasteurization.  Pasteurization, generally thought of in the heated method, brings a product to a high enough temperature for long enough to kill any bacteria that might be lurking and then generally involves sealing the product in an air-tight container to prevent the growth of new bacteria.  This type pasteurization is known as High-Temperature-Short-Time Treatment (HTST), commonly performed on milk.  Milk is pasteurized at 161 ⁰F for 15 seconds.  The temperatures and time are adjusted based on the types of food, as well as color, texture, and flavor desired in the end product. We do this all the time, though you might only consider dairy products when you hear “pasteurization.”  Canned products, bottled beverages, juices, and many more items are rendered safe for consumption and longer-term storage though this method.

Lower temperature pasteurization, on the other hand, is a method where the food product is heated to a lower temperature for a longer length of time to kill off harmful bacteria.  This is known as Low-Temperature-Long-Time Treatment (LTLT) where a lower heat is used to kill the harmful bacteria, but this requires a longer time.  Milk pasteurized at LTLT is heated to 145 ⁰F for 30 minutes to achieve this.

What about freezing?  Many sushi places acquire flash frozen fish or freeze fish as a method of killing harmful parasites in fish served raw?  Could that work for poultry as well?  This method involves freezing and storing the fish at -4 ⁰F or colder for 7 days; or freezing until solid at -31 ⁰F for 15 hours; or freezing until solid at -31 ⁰F and stored at -4 ⁰F or below for 24 hours.  Now this is this is great for parasites such as tapeworm, round worm, etc.  The bad thing, is this does very little against bacteria. Or the toxins produced by some bacteria.

Bacteria causing harm to humans are primarily mesophiles and grow best around 98.6 ⁰F.  The human body is an ideal incubator.  When frozen, even at minus -4 ⁰F, the bacterial enzymes stop functioning because the water in the cell has frozen.  Unless the meat is frozen in such a way that the formation of ice crystals ruptures the bacterial cytoplasm, bacteria survive in a suspended state.  As soon as they get back to their happy temperature range, they will begin growing again and quickly reach dangerous numbers.

Bottom line, there really is no good way to treat chicken to serve raw without risking illness.  If you choose to partake of this risky delicacy, what can you expect if you become sick?

The Bacteria Lurking in Salmonella

Chicken is known for their contributions to foodborne illness.  Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens are the big names in chicken mediated foodborne sickness.  Consuming raw or undercooked chicken or food contaminated with raw or undercooked chicken and juices puts someone at an extreme risk of becoming infected.  This leaves the unsuspecting victim with a slew of symptoms they would rather avoid.

Campylobacter

Campylobacter is responsible for about 1.3 million illnesses in the United States each year according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Most of these illnesses link back to raw or undercooked poultry, though some are due to contact with animal, contaminated water, and raw or unpasteurized dairy.  Campylobacter infections often present with symptoms of bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.  Nausea and vomiting are often common.  Symptoms often begin within 2 to 5 days after exposure and generally last about a week.  In certain individuals, the infection may spread to the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection.

Salmonella

Salmonella is responsible for about 1.1 million illnesses in the United States each year according to the CDC.  Symptoms of Salmonella infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.  Illness usually begins between 12 and 72 hours from exposure and often lasts around 4 to 7 days.  In most cases patients recover without treatment, but if infection spreads to the bloodstream, prompt antibiotic treatment is required or infection may become fatal.

Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringens is responsible for about 1 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year according to the CDC.  Symptoms of Clostridium perfringens include diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 6 to 25 hours of exposure and lasts for less than 24 hours.  This illness does not usually make the victim vomit or have fever.  Illness generally occurs because toxins produced by the bacteria build to high enough levels to cause symptoms.

Raw Chicken Worth the Risk?

For the daredevil wanting to look cool in front of their friends, this might be a crazy dish to order.  I would imagine most people fall in the same category as I do.  Consuming a high-risk food at the hands of someone who says they “safely” prepare it, just doesn’t get my adrenaline pumping.  I’d rather explore consuming raw octopus, but that is for another time…

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)