What you can do

Last reviewed: January 2010

Too often, America's food-safety net has holes. Although Perdue chickens were cleaner than other big brands in our tests, and most air-chilled organic brands were especially clean, our tests are a snapshot in time and no type has been consistently low enough in pathogens to recommend over all others. Buying cleaner chicken may improve your odds if you fail to prepare chicken carefully. If you choose organic, be aware that it cost us up to $4.55 more per pound than the rest.

Whatever bird you buy, one slipup and you're at risk. Most important is to cook chicken to at least 165º F. Even if it's no longer pink, it can still harbor bacteria, so use a meat thermometer. The Polder THM-360, $30, and Taylor Weekend Warrior 806, $16, were excellent in our tests. Other tips:

  • Make chicken one of the last items you buy before heading to the checkout line.
  • Choose chicken that is well wrapped and at the bottom of the case, where the temperature should be coolest.
  • Place chicken in a plastic bag like those in the produce department to keep juices from leaking.
  • If you'll cook the chicken within a couple of days, store it at 40° F or below. Otherwise, freeze it.
  • Thaw frozen chicken in a refrigerator, inside its packaging and on a plate, or on a plate in a microwave oven. Never thaw it on a counter: When the inside is still frozen, the outside can warm up, providing a breeding ground for bacteria. Cook chicken thawed in a microwave oven right away.
  • Don't return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

For more ways to help ensure that your food is safe, go to our Web site at www.BuySafeEatWell.org.