The potential consequences of not handling and preparing poultry correctly are not great.
Basically, poultry can give you severe food poisoning unless you prepare and cook it properly. If you store, handle and cook it properly, you will kill bacteria and viruses that poultry may carry.
Common types of Bacteria carried by poultry
Salmonella is the most well known bacteria carried by poultry, which can cause severe food poisoning.
It’s common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella which is a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines of poultry and many other animals. Even organically fed poultry can have Salmonella.
While it usually doesn’t make the birds sick, Salmonella can cause serious illness when it is passed to people.
Campylobacter is actually the most common cause of food poisoning. In January 2013, the UK’s Food Standards Agency warned that two-thirds of all raw chicken bought from UK shops was contaminated with campylobacter, affecting an estimated half a million people annually and killing approximately 100.
So how do you ensure your chicken, duck or turkey is safe to eat?
Poultry is perfectly safe to eat if it is cooked properly.
Just before Christmas 2013 there was an incident on a UK turkey farm (not ours!) that had a few birds develop a virus. If the poultry was handled and cooked properly this virus caused no health issues at all.
Poultry, unfortunately, carries these food poisoning bacteria inside the muscle, unlike Beef and other meats which may have forms of Salmonella and Campylobacter on its outer edge but the bacteria is unable to penetrate further into the meat (although if beef is minced the same rules apply.)
Can how the bird has been reared affect its safety?
All the production standards in the United Kingdom for farming poultry are safe whether it’s factory, free-range or organic as they all have to adhere to the same standards of good farming.
At the end of the day, as long as you buy from a reputable source the basic standards will be met.
Back-yard operations where standards of processing and killing are not inspected are another matter!
All reputable poultry farmers will use proper facilities which are regularly inspected and up to date with the latest hygiene and processing standards.
All poultry, wherever it has been reared; factory or free-range, has to be tested for Salmonella a couple of weeks before that flock of birds is killed, so if there is a problem it would be flagged up in the factory before it got into the food produce line.
The infected birds would be disposed of accordingly.
What Accreditations should you look for when buying poultry?
The minimum standard you want to be looking for is the Red Tractor on the label; followed by Freedom Foods which is part of the RSPCA who set down regulations and standards of good animal husbandry (i.e. the conditions the birds are kept and the birds welfare).
There is a limit on stock density and they specify how many feeders and drinkers are necessary for that number of birds to maintain good welfare which, as poultry farmers, are standards we have to adhere to.
What is the safest, most hygienic way of storing poultry?
Obviously you want to keep any fresh meat refrigerated. The best place is at the bottom of fridge.
If the packaging leaks, it can not drip blood onto vegetables or other cooked food stuff below it.
I personally suggest that if you have bought a chicken from a supermarket that you remove the plastic wrapper and polytene tray and place it on a plate so that the air in the fridge can get round it, and keep it in the fridge until you need to use it.
Preparing the bird to ensure hygiene and safety
I know some people have taken to washing the bird they have bought from the supermarket or butchers thinking it is a good idea.
Unfortunately, if you rinse the skin of the bird under the tap, any bacteria that is on the skin of the bird could be splash about contaminating the surrounding work surfaces unnecessarily.
The best practise is to take it from the fridge or directly out of the packaging and place in a roasting tin, season to taste, add a bit of water and cover with tin foil and then cook at the right temperature and length of time (watch Rob Morton’s video on cooking the perfect Xmas Turkey) to ensure that the meat is cooked properly.
As a general guide; when the chicken is cooked and cut into, the meat is all white with no pink bits (i.e. undercooked meat) and the juices run clear (i.e. no blood visible).
Do you have any turkey or chicken preparation tips?
Do you have any tips or methods that have helped you prepare great poultry which I haven’t included above?