What causes Campylobacter in chicken?

Thanks to decades of safety and consumer education campaigns, a significant percentage of Americans are now familiar with Salmonella and the infection humans get from ingesting it. Less well-known—yet actually more common—is Campylobacter, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects around 1.5 million Americans every year.

Let’s take a closer look at this bacteria, the illness that it causes, and the prevention steps you can take in the grocery store and at home. 

What is Campylobacter infection?

Avoid cross-contaminating other foods. Separate raw chicken from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, your kitchen and in your refrigerator. Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Do not rinse raw poultry in your sink; it will not remove bacteria, and in fact it can spread raw juices around your sink, onto your countertops or onto ready-to-eat foods. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry can only be killed when cooked to a safe internal temperature of 165. 

Make raw chicken or meat products the last items you select at the store. Once home, the products must be refrigerated or frozen promptly. Freeze raw chicken if it is not to be used within 2 days. If properly packaged, chicken can remain frozen for up to one year. After cooking, refrigerate any uneaten chicken within 2 hours. Leftovers will remain safe to eat for 2-3 days. 

Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40°F or below. Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator (not on the countertop) or in cold water. To speed up the process, chicken can be thawed in the microwave. Timing will vary. When marinating, make a separate batch of marinade to serve with the cooked chicken and discard anything that was used on the raw chicken.  

When barbecuing chicken outdoors, keep refrigerated until ready to cook. Do not place cooked chicken on the same plate used to transport raw chicken to the grill.

Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw chicken and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food. 

Cook chicken thoroughly. All poultry products, including ground poultry, should always be cooked to 165°F internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers should be refrigerated no more than two hours after cooking. Be aware the color of cooked poultry is not a sure sign of its safety. Only by using a food thermometer is it possible to accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the product. Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, older adults and persons with compromised immune systems. When reheating leftovers, cover to retain moisture and ensure chicken is heated all the way through. Bring gravies to a rolling boil before serving.

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