There are many ways to prevent bacteria from contaminating poultry, from using adequate waterers – you can find more info here about these – to employing the proper techniques when processing meat. Food handlers use protective equipment, adequate tools, modern specialized equipment, as well as antimicrobial agents and various chemical treatments to reduce bacteria on poultry during meat processing.
What is the poultry industry doing?
To make sure that buyers are provided with high-quality, safe chicken meat, the poultry industry has set in place a couple of directives that all producers follow. The entire process starts with the breeder hens. These hens are carefully selected and looked after so that the chicks that result from the eggs that they lay do not have diseases.
At hatcheries, the chicks are vaccinated against various diseases and they are given a special type of treated feed that helps them develop into healthy chickens. Although not all hatcheries provide chicks with a feed that included antibiotics, some of them do so. However, studies have shown that once the chicks mature, their meat does not contain antibiotics.
All meat that is produced by poultry plants is thoroughly verified by the USDA. In all facilities of this type, inspectors verify and make sure that the meat is wholesome and correctly packaged and labeled.
To ensure that the meat that they provide to the public is healthy, the producers use a couple of methods such as organic rinses that prevent the development of bacteria and pathogens. Plus, the meat is scanned using metal detectors and it is microbiologically tested.
According to recent studies, because of these practices, from 2001 to 2010, the outbreaks related to pathogens such as Salmonella and E. Coli decreased by 40%. On top of that, more than 95% of the tests that the USDA has done on whole chickens in different plants are negative. The CDC, FDA, and USDA claim that 90% of all Salmonella cases reported are not related to the consumption of poultry.
What are organic acid rinses?
Because microbial contamination when handling poultry is hard to avoid, producers have started to use rinses with lactic or acetic acids to minimize the growth of bacteria. These acids are natural and they do not affect the quality of the food because they are food grade. In fact, these acids can be found in numerous other food products.
However, the researchers point out that no matter the type of rinse producers use, the population of bacteria cannot be destroyed completely. As a result, it is vital that you cook the poultry correctly. Moreover, although these acids are great when it comes to reducing Salmonella, E Coli is more resistant and, consequently, more difficult to reduce.
TSP or trisodium phosphate is another substance approved by the USDA to be used in poultry plants as an antimicrobial agent. The substance is sprayed on the meat, or, often, the meat is immersed in this solution so that bacteria levels are reduced. This substance is food-grade and it is recognized as safe by numerous other agencies for food regulation, including GRAS.
Another method that was approved in 1992 by the USDA is irradiation. Poultry producers are permitted to irradiate packaged raw meat in order to control bacteria growth. This type of irradiation can kill up to 99% of Salmonella. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Services, irradiation is safe and it works the same way as pasteurization does.
On top of that, it should be pointed out that food irradiation does not, in any case, make food radioactive and it does not take away from the nutrients that it contains. This cannot be an issue because only a small dose of irradiation is used.
There are currently over 37 countries in the world that also use irradiation as a way of sanitizing foods. In Europe, food irradiation is a method that has been used in the food industry for decades.
Modern processing equipment
In recent history, poultry plants have started to use modern processing equipment. They have also introduced sanitizers in the processing operations that minimize the growth of bacteria. All the workers that come into contact with the meat wear protective equipment.
All the machines that are used in the process are thoroughly cleaned and maintained by people that have received specialized training. After the chickens are killed, scalded, de-feathered and eviscerated, they are kept in chilling rooms.
Inside the processing area, the temperature is low so that the meat does not start to decompose. Also, all the resulted products are transported in specialized trucks that keep the poultry fresh and cold during transportation.
Safety tips for handling poultry at home
To avoid Salmonella from spreading throughout your kitchen, there are a couple of things that you can do. First things first, it is vital that you do not leave the chicken out on your counter for too long. At room temperature, the meat is prone to develop bacteria quickly and, as a result, your chances of getting food poisoning are higher.
Therefore, once you come back from the store, be sure to place the poultry in the fridge immediately. You should only take it out before you cook it.
Moreover, it is advisable that you store the meat in the freezer, and not in the fridge. Chicken juice can drip out of the container and, if it comes into contact with any other foods, those products will be contaminated.
When you place chicken in the fridge, you should always put it on a plate or in a container that has a lid. Besides, it is a great idea to set it on the lowest shell available.
One of the most important tips that you should remember is that the experts recommend that you do not wash the meat before preparing it. Rinsing poultry can instantly lead to bacteria being spread all over your kitchen. Instead, skip over this step and move forward to preparing it. This way, all bacteria will be killed during the cooking process.
If you are a fan of marinated chicken, you might want to reconsider the way you do so. Instead of leaving the poultry on the counter while it is marinating, cooks recommend that you put it in a plastic bag and that you place it in the refrigerator for at least two days.
While handling chicken, it is very important that you do not use the same utensils and the same cutting board when preparing the vegetables and poultry. Cross-contamination between the two might lead to the spreading of Salmonella.
All the utensils that come into contact with the raw meat should be thoroughly washed before used again.
One of the most critical steps one has to take while cooking is washing his/her hands. This does not only mean that you have to wash your hands before you start the cooking process. Instead, every time you come in contact with raw meat, it is crucial that you wash up before touching other ingredients and even your countertop and drawer knobs.
The chicken juice is filled with bacteria that can be immediately transferred throughout your kitchen, and this is something that should be avoided at any cost.
Another tip that you should put into practice has to do with the sponge or the dishes-cloth that you use when doing the dishes. When not replaced often, sponges and rags can transform into a heaven for bacteria. So, be sure to replace them every two to three weeks.
All poultry products should be cooked thoroughly to 165 Fahrenheit degrees. To make sure that you have cooked the poultry enough it is recommended that you use a cooking thermometer, as, oftentimes, the color of the meat can be deceiving.
You should pay extra attention to this aspect if you often cook for infants, children or adults and seniors that have a weak immune system. The same is true when reheating leftovers.
If you are eating poultry in a restaurant and you notice that the meat was not cooked well enough, send it back.
When making barbeques outdoors, poultry should not be left outside, in direct sunlight. Instead, keep the meat cold and away from the sun until you actually have to place it on the grill. Even more so, you should not place the cooked meat on the same plate that was used to transport it when it was raw.