Whether fried, baked or boiled, chicken is versatile, tasty and widely eaten. But this healthy protein source needs to be properly cooked and stored to avoid risk of contamination and potentially illness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's suggestion of keeping “hot foods hot and cold foods cold” is a good general guideline to follow, but you can tell if chicken is poorly cooked or has been improperly stored through a few simple observations.
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One of the easiest ways of telling if chicken is undercooked is if it is still pink on the inside. The USDA recommends cooking whole chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, measuring the temperature along the inside of the thigh and the thickest portion of the breast. When using an instant-read thermometer, do not let the tip touch the bone as this will give a skewed reading. If cooking bone-in chicken, you will need a longer cooking time than deboned chicken, and stuffed chickens require longer cooking than chicken left as-is.
Cooked chicken needs to be properly stored to stay safe for consumption. Freshly cooked chicken will have a brown or white color to the meat, and, over time, as it spoils, it will turn green-gray or gray. Other signs of spoiled cooked chicken are a bad, offensive smell, a slimy or slippery texture and mold growing on the chicken. In these cases, or whenever in doubt, throw away the chicken rather than risk potential contamination.
Symptoms of Illness
Food-borne bacteria can affect raw or cooked chicken and lead to cross-contamination -- bacteria spreading from raw to cooked foods. Numerous bacteria can cause illness, including salmonella, listeria and E. coli. Common symptoms of all illnesses include abdominal pain or cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever and possibly respiratory complications. To determine the specific course of treatment, you need to seek medical attention immediately. This will reduce the risk of more severe symptoms, including muscle paralysis and possibly death, depending on the type of bacteria.
Preventing Bad Chicken: Storage
The USDA recommends storing all chicken -- cooked or raw -- in proper temperatures. Keep your fridge 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and your freezer no higher than 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, cooked chicken, if properly covered in the fridge, can be stored for three to four days, or upwards of four months in the freezer. Raw chicken parts can be stored for one to two days in the fridge, or between three to 12 months in the freezer. If you are keeping your chicken warm before serving, keep it at 140 degrees or higher, and when reheating cooked chicken, bring it up to 165 degrees.
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Chicken From Farm to Table
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Foodborne Illness -- What Consumers Need to Know
- Joy of Cooking; Irma S. Rombauer et al.