How do you know if chicken is fully cooked?
According to a new study published Wednesday, most people use their knowledge from previous experiences cooking chicken to decide when they think a piece is fully cooked, and the method is not very safe.
Other popular methods included looking at the surface of the meat, testing the texture to see if it’s changed from glossy to firm and checking the inside for zero pinkness.
Researchers surveyed 3,969 people in the United Kingdom, Romania, Portugal and Norway, focusing on three groups: young single men, families with children and people older than 70.
“Most people think you can look at the colour change from pink to white and that suggests it’s ready,” senior scientist Solveig Langsrud told CNN.
“We couldn’t find anything in the scientific literature backing this up, so we decided to look into it.”
For the study, scientists conducted several lab tests to determine which factors actually indicate a fully cooked piece of chicken — and the results were quite shocking.
Perhaps most surprising: changes in colour and texture were not found to be reliable independent indicators of whether chicken was finished cooking.
“Some consumers use the inner colour of the meat or texture to judge doneness, but these approaches do not ensure the pathogens are inactivated,” reads the study.
Researchers recommend using a food thermometer to measure core temperature, but this is also not considered a foolproof method.
“This approach is not only difficult to apply in practice, it’s also not safe as bacteria may survive on the surface even at proper core temperatures,” said researchers.
Based on these findings, Langsrud told CNN she recommends using multiple ways to test whether your chicken is done.
“I think the most important thing is to make sure all surfaces are cooked well. If you are frying, make sure all surfaces touch the heating plate or cook in a sauce after frying, and when you cook a whole chicken make sure surfaces are exposed,” she said.
“And then check the core meat temperature and the colour. It has to be white, but that’s not enough. You also need to see it’s changed its texture — with fibres — and it’s not glossy,” she said.
Food scientist and University of Guelph professor Jeff Farber agrees: the best practice for consumers is to do a “number of things” to ensure chicken is fully cooked.
These are the “leading causes of bacterial food-borne illness (food poisoning) in Canada,” Farber said. “In 2015, there were about 88,000 Salmonella and 145,000 Campylobacter illnesses.”
Both infections can cause severe adverse reactions, like diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.
How to use a meat thermometer
To kill these bacteria, Health Canada recommends chicken reaches an internal temperature of 82 C during cooking.
“Studies done have found that 82°C is a safe endpoint cooking temperature for whole unstuffed and stuffed poultry, as measured in the thickest part of the breast,” Farber said in an email to Global News.
The meat thermometer should be placed in the “thickest part of the breast” because it’s widely considered the last place to reach the desired temperature.
If you’re reheating previously cooked chicken, the internal temperature should be a minimum of 74 C.
Farber offers some further tips on how to safely cook chicken:
- Make sure the thermometer doesn’t touch bone when you take the internal temperature.
- Wash your thermometer and other utensils used on raw or partially cooked poultry before using them again.
- Do not use a microwave to cook poultry as it could heat unevenly, leaving some parts under-cooked.
Breaded chicken may seem easier to cook, but Canada has had several Salmonella outbreaks linked to frozen raw breaded chicken nuggets.
“They may look pre-cooked or browned but they’re raw inside,” Farber said.
“To protect your family, cook the breaded chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 74°C.”
The same advice about microwaves applies to breaded chicken: these food items should not be cooked in a microwave because it can leave some parts undercooked.
“Follow the package directions and cook chicken properly to kill bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter,” Farber said.
“You can also stop bacteria from spreading to your fridge, kitchen surfaces or utensils by handling the breaded chicken properly.”
Follow these three steps
To make sure your chicken is fully cooked, Farber said, follow these three steps every time:
- Use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the poultry.
- Use judgement and observe the colour of the poultry.
- Look at the development of the fibrous structure in the thickest part of the chicken meat.