Australians eat more chicken every year than any other meat. Chicken can be a nutritious choice, but raw chicken is often contaminated with bacteria, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and Clostridium perfringens. If chicken is not handled properly, these bacteria can make someone really sick; in extreme cases, they may never recover.
It’s important that anyone who prepares chicken, for themselves or for others, knows how to do it safely. It’s doubly important for food businesses and food service workers, including managers, Food Safety Supervisors and Food Handlers, to understand and follow safe food handling techniques for chicken and other poultry products.
Many people aren’t quite sure how to handle chicken safely, or what the rules are when it comes to purchasing, storing, thawing, preparing or cooking chicken. To assist you in these endeavors, we’ve compiled a list of the do’s and don’ts for each stage of the journey, from purchasing to cooking.
How to buy chicken
Not sure what to look for when buying chicken and poultry products? Follow these do’s and don’ts:
- DO purchase from a reputable supplier who has been approved by local authorities.
- DO check that chicken is delivered at 5°C or below.
- DO check that frozen chicken products are completely frozen. Check packaging for any signs of thawing.
- DON’T accept any chicken that is soft, discoloured, sticky or has an abnormal odour. Be sure to check around the wings and joints.
How to store raw chicken
Unsure about fridge temperature requirements or how long raw chicken will last in the fridge? Check out our chicken storage tips!
- DO cook raw chicken within two days of purchase and freeze what you won’t use quickly.
- DO wrap chicken in airtight packages, label and date.
- DO store chicken in the refrigerator at 5°C or below or in a freezer at -15°C or below.
- DO store chicken on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent contaminating foods below.
- DON’T store pre-cooked or ready-to-eat foods below raw chicken products!
- DON’T refreeze chicken that has already been thawed.
How to thaw frozen chicken
There are a couple of ways to thaw frozen chicken (and other poultry) safely. Make sure you’re keeping chicken out of the Temperature Danger Zone (5°C – 60°C) and preventing cross-contamination by following these five cardinal rules:
- DO prepare in advance, as some frozen chicken products can take days to thaw.
- DO thaw chicken on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, allowing a few hours to a full day (depending on size).
- DO cook chicken on the same day it has completed thawed.
- DON’T defrost chicken at room temperature.
- DON’T refreeze thawed poultry. Use it or throw it out.
How to handle raw chicken
Handling raw chicken improperly can result in cross-contamination, which is when bacteria and other pathogens are transferred from one surface to another. Pay special attention to these do’s and don’ts to prevent cross-contamination:
- DO use batch preparation when preparing poultry.
- DO use a dedicated cutting board for raw chicken (plastic is preferred).
- DO clean and sanitise all surfaces, equipment and utensils before and after preparing raw poultry.
- DO wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw chicken.
- DON’T rinse raw chicken, as splashing water can cause cross-contamination.
- DON’T reuse knives or cutting boards to prepare any other food until they have been cleaned and sanitised.
How to cook chicken
Cooking chicken to the required temperature is critically important for safety. If you don’t cook to the required temperature, dangerous bacteria won’t be destroyed and can make a customer very ill. To cook chicken safely, follow these rules:
- DO use a thermometer to check that poultry has reached a minimum internal temperature of 75°C. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding bones.
- DO make sure frozen poultry is defrosted right through to the centre before cooking.
- DO insert the thermometer under the drumstick when cooking whole birds, as this area takes longest to heat up.
- DO refrigerate any leftover chicken or other poultry products immediately and use within three to five days.
- DON'T reheat chicken (or meals containing chicken) more than once.
Other things to consider
Sometimes other food items that are added to poultry can have the potential to make poultry unsafe. For example, stuffing and breading are considered potentially hazardous as they are often cooked with potentially hazardous foods such as poultry. Stuffing can act as an insulator if cooked inside poultry and prevent it from reaching the required internal temperature. Therefore, stuffing must always be cooked separately from poultry.
Breading can also act as an insulator and prevent poultry from reaching its required temperature. Breading also can appear to be fully cooked even when the poultry underneath is not. Therefore, extra caution must be taken when cooking breaded poultry and the internal temperature must always be checked with a probe thermometer.
How food safety training reduces the risk of food poisoning
These do’s and don’ts for handling chicken and other poultry products are a great start, but food safety is only truly achieved when Food Handlers have all the knowledge and skills required for safe food handling.
Food Handlers need to understand:
- Why is it important not to cut corners when it comes to cleaning and sanitising?
- What is cross-contamination and how does it happen?
- What are the risks of ignoring the 2 hour / 4 hour rule?
- What happens when high-risk foods like chicken are in the Temperature Danger Zone for too long?
- Why is undercooked chicken a serious health risk?
- Who is most at risk from food poisoning — and what’s the worst that can happen?
Food Handlers must be trained in all these things and more if we expect them to be able to do their job well, and to keep people safe. A Food Safety Supervisor, who is required to do advanced food safety training, goes a long way to ensuring food safety in a restaurant or other food business.
The Australian Institute of Food Safety provides nationally recognised food safety courses online, helping food business across Australia to manage food safety risks and comply with food safety laws and requirements.
AIFS’ Food Safety Supervisor online course allows your nominated Food Safety Supervisor to complete the course entirely online, at a time and place that is convenient for them. Our nationally recognised food safety training courses are all delivered 100% online and are trusted by the food service industry nationwide.