Handle chicken safely

What to do in the store and at home so you don't get sick

Published: December 23, 2013 05:00 PM

We recently tested 316 samples of raw chicken breasts from Perdue, Pilgrim’s, Sanderson Farms, Tyson, and other brands, and found potentially harmful bacteria in almost all of them. Does that mean you should swear off chicken? “No, but it does mean that you need to handle chicken—all chicken, all the time—with caution, starting in the grocery store and ending with storing your leftovers,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

Unfortunately, our recent survey of 1,005 U.S adults suggests that many people don’t do all that they should to prevent contamination when handling chicken. See below for tips on what to do, in the store and at home.

In the store

Consider going organic

Look for chickens labeled “organic” or “raised without antibiotics.” They may cost more, but there are benefits. They’re slightly less likely to have antibiotic-resistant bacteria, our tests found, and you’re supporting farmers who raise their chickens without antibiotics—a step that could help ensure that the drugs will continue to be effective in treating infections in people.

Ignore “Natural" chickens

Don’t be misled by other claims, especially “natural.” More than half of the people in our survey thought that meant chickens were raised without antibiotics. It doesn’t. It’s best to just ignore that term. See our guide to chicken labels.  

Put your bird in plastic

One in three people surveyed did not take that basic step. But it’s important because juices from the package can drip onto other foods, spreading bacteria.

Keep kids out of the cart

One study found that 13 percent of kids younger than 3 may have been exposed to raw meat or poultry packages while riding in a grocery cart.

Polder THM-360
This top-rated thermometer costs about $30.

At home

Keep it cold

If you’re not going to cook poultry it within a few days, freeze it. And refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours.

Don’t rinse your bird

The force of the water spreads bacteria around your kitchen. But almost three out of four respondents to our survey said they did it.

Use a meat thermometer

Make sure your chicken reaches 165° F, the recommended internal temperature for killing harmful bacteria. Only 30 percent of the people we surveyed said they use a meat thermometer. Our top-rated model, the Polder THM-360, costs about $30. See our reviews of meat thermometers.

Use designated cutting boards

More than half of respondents said they had one cutting board for raw meat and another for cooked. But you might want a third for produce. And make sure you clean all boards with hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. Also clean counters and sponges if they touch raw chicken.

Wash your hands

And make sure you do it (using hot, soapy water) every time you touch chicken.

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