What’s a reasonable amount of food safety for poultry at home?
April 29, 2019 6:35 AM   Subscribe

I am by no means compulsive about cleanliness in the kitchen—but I am somewhat rigorous about food safety when dealing with poultry. At the same time, I don’t know whether my poultry practices are overkill (likely not) or not strict enough (possibly). Help me calibrate!

For my poultry prep, I have a dedicated cutting board (plastic, I assume HDPE?). I use gloves (I often wear gloves in the kitchen after feeing the burn too many times from preparing hot peppers). I use my regular knives (steel with black resin handles) and ceramic or glass containers. I take care, obviously, not to use contaminated gloves to touch other things in the kitchen.

When the prep is done, I used my gloved hands to dispose of waste and then the used materials (cutting board, knife, glass/ceramic ware) go to the sink. The items in the sink get rinsed and the sprayed with a bleach solution. Then the work surface gets a spray with the bleach solution. The bleach is left to sit a few minutes and then rinsed and washed with a regular sponge. Doneness is rested with a instant read digital thermometer.

It’s the cleanup that I feel least confident in. Is a 10:1 bleach solution strong enough? Should I wash before spraying with bleach? Is spraying bleach on a wet surface effective? How long should bleach sit on a surface? Am I just cross contaminating everything by using regular sponges to clean up the bleach?

I’m not trying to get ServSafe certified, but I want to ensure, to the best of my ability, that no one gets salmonella from my cooking. What am I doing right and what am I doing wrong?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
That’s way overkill in my book. Wooden cutting boards harbor less bacteria than plastic, btw.

The only think special you should need to do for raw poultry is wash your hands after handling it, and don’t use that cutting board for foods that will not be cooked until it has been washed and dried.

I have never bleached any kitchenware and nobody has ever gotten sick from contamination in my kitchen. Hot soap and water is plenty.

CDC doesn’t even recommend you bleach utensils, though they mention you can wipe down counters with a bleach solution.

Anyway; you are operating far more conservatively than CDC guidelines, this may or may not be what you want to be doing.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:55 AM on April 29, 2019 [27 favorites]

this is overkill. Don't forget uncooked veg is by far the biggest vector for food poisoning.

Food Service standards are much higher because the implications for cross-contamination are much higher. Assuming you do not have immuno-suppresed diners this is overkill.

Also the reccs on internal temp on chicken are way way too conservative.
posted by JPD at 6:56 AM on April 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Here's what I do, and to the best of my knowledge no one has had salmonella from my cooking, including my immunosuppressed self:
I wash things that have touched raw poultry with soap and water before using them for other things. This is all.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:56 AM on April 29, 2019 [51 favorites]

My family doesn't adhere strictly to any of this. No gloves ever. Wood cutting boards. Knives with various handle materials. Bowls of various materials. Sink gets bleached semi-annually at best, and then not in response to poultry encounters. Thermometers only occasionally.

Zero cases of salmonella or other obvious food poisoning. I'm almost 50.
posted by jon1270 at 6:56 AM on April 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh my, that's way more than necessary. Wash your hands before and after handling, soapy water is fine. Wash the cutting board before chopping anything else on it. 40 years of cooking, no plastic gloves, a regular wood cutting board, no health problems. I'm most likely to bleach the board after garlic or if it gets a stain from beets or strawberries. Relax and you'll enjoy the process more.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:00 AM on April 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I get very fussed about not touching anything with my "chicken hands," and I don't reuse a plate that's touched raw meat without washing it. I don't see the upside of gloves for chicken, since removing and disposing of chicken gloves doesn't seem like less trouble than washing your chicken hands. I am also unreasonably creeped out by raw poultry, but I think you're going overboard.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:03 AM on April 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

If I am roasting a whole chicken, I cut the plastic lining open in the sink, and yes, I rinse it, because they often have little globs of red stuff (from being previously frozen? I don't like it, so I rinse it off). Then I put it straightaway onto a roasting pan, which is next to the sink. Doing it in the sink means I can drain the juices easily.

If I am cutting it up, I put it on a sheet pan, cut it with kitchen shears, and those go into the sink for washing.

I wash my hands and cutting shears, knife, etc. in hot soapy water. Then I scrub the sink using Dawn dish soap, and rinse. No bleach. Any tiny droplets, I wipe with a wet paper towel and follow up with Windex and a wipe with a dry paper towel. If I have to pat the bird dry, also paper towels. All the guts and backbone, if I cut it out, go into a set of double bagged leftover grocery bags, then removed to the outside trash can within the hour.

Never had a problem, even tho' I rinse the bird, not recommended, but my water pressure is pretty low, so there's not a lot of spraying going on.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:03 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

The most important thing to focus on w/r/t poultry prep is avoiding cross-contamination. Like, don't use the same tongs to remove cooked chicken that you used to handle raw chicken. Also, never rinse poultry parts in your sink; the over spray and droplets are far more of a hazard than not rinsing it would be.

on preview: my not rinsing recommendation is not an indictment against Marie Mon Dieu, just something I remember from my ServSafe classes.

One more thing: you're more likely to get salmonella from raw spinach and lettuces than you are from chicken.
posted by cooker girl at 7:05 AM on April 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Bleach is totally unnecessary. The USDA says that hot soap and water plus some scrubbing is all you need. It says bleach "may be used" but the solution is 1 T per gallon of water.

Bleach is a harsh and dangerous chemical that gives off damaging fumes. We probably use it too much. I'd avoid it except for an occasional deep clean, maybe. Certainly do not use it in high concentrations around food prep.
posted by Miko at 7:07 AM on April 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

The bleach is way overkill. Personally I just stick the chopping boards & knifes that have been used to chop chicken in the dishwasher with everything else. (Obviously don’t do this with wooden chopping boards! They can be washed by hand in hot soapy water)

Make sure not to touch anything with your 'chicken hands' before you wash them thoroughly & you’ll be fine.
posted by pharm at 7:14 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

The CDC link I gave above also specifies to not rinse poultry, meat, or eggs, for the same reasons of splatter contamination.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:17 AM on April 29, 2019

This blogger describes his kitchen cleaning rituals as akin to a Japanese tea ceremony. It sounds a bit much for me, but I like his idea about the color-coded sponges.
posted by xo at 7:18 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you have a dishwasher, you can just put stuff in it, use the standard settings and detergent, and be confident that things are clean. Dishwasher detergent is harsh and effective.
posted by theora55 at 7:22 AM on April 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

The USDA agrees with the comments above, according to their page on Cutting Boards and Food Safety. No need to bleach, but if you do, they say the ratio should be 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, which is a ratio of 1 to 256. So your ratio of 10:1 is about 25 times too strong.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:23 AM on April 29, 2019 [8 favorites]

Whoa! I've been cooking for five decades plus and I've never done any of this. Yeah, I wash knives and cutting boards and my hands after they've touched raw meat, but that's about it. Nobody has ever gotten sick. The only times I've had food poisoning came from eating in restaurants.
posted by mareli at 7:28 AM on April 29, 2019

Another vote for your practices being overkill. I am probably at the slapdash end, but I do make an effort to wash anything that has touched raw chicken with soap and water before I do anything else with it. But that's literally all I do, and I've never to my knowledge made anyone sick from eating food I've cooked.

On the other hand, if your practices make you feel comfortable and they're not such a hassle they're interfering with your ability to cook, then there's no reason not to stick with them.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:29 AM on April 29, 2019

You are using far, far too much bleach. Much of what you're doing is misguided at best, concerning at worst. Don't ever spray bleach. Additionally, you are dumping a toxic chemical into the water supply via your sink, into which you are also presumably putting other acidic compounds like vinegar or even lemons. That's vastly more unsafe than chicken.

If you want to be hypervigilant about this, plug your sink, put soap in it, put all your implements in it, and soak them in the hottest water you can get to come out of your tap. You can add boiling water if it makes you feel better, but salmonella dies at relatively low temperatures. If you want to spray with something that is effective in the kitchen, spray with 3% hydrogen peroxide.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:30 AM on April 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

My household is another "don't touch stuff with your unwashed chicken hands; clean things with soap and water after chicken has touched them" household, and that's it. I do not think you need to stress about giving anyone salmonella; you are already going away above and beyond what is typically called for. (Assuming you're cooking for people with standard immune systems and food sensitivities - if not, then they would be the best sources of advice on what specifically you need to do to cook for them.)
posted by Stacey at 7:38 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

The UK government says "wash utensils and work surfaces thoroughly in warm soapy water after use and, if possible, disinfect them."

A restaurant supply company says "Countertops and utensils such as knives and cutting boards must be washed thoroughly with hot, soapy water after preparing raw poultry and before use with other foods. As an added precaution, washed cutting boards may be rinsed with a dilute, freshly made chlorine bleach solution (one tbsp. bleach per quart of water)."

If you want to go the hydrogen peroxide route, note that the dwell times for it are a lot longer; 1 Tbs of bleach in a gallon of water kills most nasties within 5 minutes, which is why a lot of people use it. 3% hydrogen peroxide can take up to 2.5 hours to kill certain organisms, and the item/surface needs to remain wet with solution during that time. I'm not saying you need to do this for poultry (though other governments disagree and I'm guessing you won't make anyone sick doing what you currently do); I'm just saying as someone who used to work in a hospital lab that it's important to understand the properties of disinfectants and not just swap them.

A lot of people don't wear gloves preparing food for family at home, but they're required in most restaurants. You decide the standard for your kitchen.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 8:01 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have literally NEVER used bleach in my kitchen.

I use the same bamboo cutting board for everything, but typically the chicken prep is last, and it gets washed with soap after.

I don't wear gloves ever, unless I'm working with very very hot peppers (which I almost never do anymore).

We eat chicken all the time. Nobody's ever gotten sick.
posted by uberchet at 8:10 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really dislike the trend of glove-wearing, even (especially) in restaurants. They are a barrier to your very important and exquisitely sensitive touch receptors in your hands, which are one of the most highly innervated and brain-represented parts of your body.

With those highly developed senses blocked, you do not perceive things like wet, dry, oily, or particle-covered, or unclean. Your eyes do not compensate. Your inattentive brain forgets to change them.

Not to mention the massive waste of plastics.
posted by Dashy at 8:16 AM on April 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

When I'm cutting up raw chicken, I use disposable nitrile gloves and a special smaller plastic cutting board that happens to fit snugly inside a shallow little stainless tray to catch the juices, and I cut it with metal handled (old Gerber) knives which I either leave on the board or put in another identical tray.

Then I put board, trays, knives, and any implement that's touched the chicken including forks and spoons (spatulas come later) into a big stainless electric wok that sits open on a glass tray on a pullout bread board in front of the dish drainer, then take off my gloves and throw them away, wash my hands, and then, after I've added the cooking spatulas, and generally after the meal is over, put the very tight-fitting lid on the wok and steam everything for fifteen minutes. Then I wash all that stuff as usual and put it away.
posted by jamjam at 8:26 AM on April 29, 2019

Additionally, you are dumping a toxic chemical into the water supply via your sink

This is what people do with their laundry every day, and municipal water supplies often use chlorine for water safety. I think it's a good idea generally speaking to minimize dumping chemicals down the drain, but you're asking for the reasonable path here.

While I totally agree with others that you're using too much bleach and I would never use gloves in the kitchen, people are very particular about their feelings towards potential contamination of spaces and so some of this is what makes you comfortable. I grew up in the dirt-eating-kid decade and my chicken protocol is rinse knives and hands before touching other food that won't be cooked, don't eat chicken when pink, the end. You probably want something in the middle, so it's worth paying attention to the information people have given you on cutting boards and consider using the dishwasher for sanitization because it's right there for you.
posted by jessamyn at 8:46 AM on April 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also worth noting - if you want to keep using the bleach solution, you need to mix it fresh daily for effectiveness, diluted bleach is unstable.
posted by momus_window at 9:29 AM on April 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

If a food requires this level of Silkwood-style hazmat decontamination, I’m not eating it anyway. But I do eat chicken, because it doesn’t. For over 40 years I’ve just avoided letting things I’ll eat raw touch chickeny hands or equipment, and then washed up afterward, and no one has ever gotten sick.

P.S. I rinse my chicken too, and have lived to tell the tale.
posted by HotToddy at 12:14 PM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's so good that you are taking kitchen hygiene seriously. Sometimes when I visit people I am so appalled by their kitchens I can't eat there. Recently Daniel Gritzer at Serious Eats had a neat guide to keeping your kitchen clean. Personally, I like the smell of bleach, it reminds me of my gran, so I use it for the sink about once a month. I have wooden counters, so I just scrub them well with diluted soap suds and oil them when/if needed.
That said, you are going way overboard on this. And yes, wooden boards contain natural disinfectants -- but on the other hand they can't go in the dishwasher and they need to be dried completely after cleaning and before storing. My gran said the sun the is best disinfectant (after the scrubbing part), but you can't always get your board out into the sun.
My dishwasher has a setting for disinfecting stuff, so for me, running the plastic board is a no-brainer. Maybe yours has that setting as well? My best knife for chicken cutting is all steel, but I don't worry about using one with a wooden handle if I have to. They both will go directly into the sink and get washed with soap right away.
I just wash my hands, but I also always have a hand-disinfectant next to the sink, if I feel like I need some extra cleaning, which I might if I've been working with multiple chickens or a goose or something. If I'm working with poultry, I'll put the towels I use for my hands in the laundry right away. Gloves wouldn't work for me, because my wrists and arms above the bird often touch the raw meat, but if it works for you, that's just good.

There are two, just two things to remember: avoid cross-contamination and cook your chicken through.
For the first, apart from using a separate board and clean knives for the chicken and the rest, careful prepping is important. You don't want to have your chicken ready to be stuffed, and then need to chop up the herbs, moving your hands from one counter to the other. The herbs and vegs should be ready in separate bowls before you touch the chicken. Wash your hands all the time. Use all the towels.
For the second, I feel using a thermometer for chicken is a bit tricky, and prefer to check with a small pointy knife whether the meat has completely let go of the thigh bone. Obviously I wash the knife between tests.
Today we eat very little meat for climate reasons, but in my life I've prepped thousands of chickens and other poultry, as part of a large family and at times a caterer for hundreds of people. I've never, ever experienced a food poisoning till this Christmas, where the culprit was an unnoticed power failure while I was traveling, that led to the contamination of our entire freezer. So nothing to do with kitchen hygiene as such (but very traumatic).

Well actually there are three things you can control: what about the quality of your poultry? Here we can buy guaranteed ecological and salmonella free poultry. Maybe look out for that. It's more expensive, but it's not a bad thing to eat less but better meat.
posted by mumimor at 1:06 PM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

True story: a few weeks ago, I had a fight with my spouse because I am the one who is really super-cautious about raw meat (though I never glove up except when making meatballs) and he was using a wooden cutting board to cut raw chicken. My contention was that plastic was the only safe option, because it could go in the dishwasher and therefore be effectively sanitized. He disagreed strenuously, and since I'm a librarian, of course I went to find citations to prove him wrong (librarians don't have arguments, we have angry searches for citations).

WELL. I had to completely eat my words because the science shows that wood cutting boards harbor almost no bacteria EVEN BEFORE THEY ARE WASHED -- plastic meanwhile harbors A LOT of bacteria.

No need for your protocol. Just clean up with soap and water, and all is good.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:18 PM on April 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm another person who's been cooking chicken for years with no food poisoning events, and I agree with all the people above saying you're going overboard. And as others have said, using up gloves for this process is absolutely unnecessary, unless you're seriously grossed out about touching raw meat.

My preparation sequence:

- Get my mise en place worked out before I even pull the chicken out of the fridge. This includes a nylon cutting board, all necessary tools at the ready, any spices pre-dispensed, paper towels pulled from the roll, everything out of the sink, and so on; with the goal that once I open up the chicken's wrapping everything I need to touch is right there and I won't need to touch anything else until I'm done.

- Take the bird out of the fridge, set it in the empty sink, take it out of the wrapping and pat it down with the paper towels before setting it on the cutting board.

- Getting the chicken ready involves dry-brining the bird with salt and seasonings I've already prepared then setting it on a large plate, ready to go back in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

- Any contaminated tools go in the sink when I'm done with them.

- Discard the wrapping and paper towels.

- Once the bird is on the plate I can wash my hands and clean up: hot soapy water for the board (which is too big to easily fit in my dishwasher) and kitchen shears/knives; everything else rinsed and put in the dishwasher. Both sides of the sink scrubbed with a soapy sponge and rinsed. Sponge thoroughly cleaned, rinsed, and squeezed as dry as possible. That sponge, by the way, is reserved for Raw Meat Duty; I have a separate one for other dishwashing jobs.

- Finally, and with clean hands, put the plate of prepped chicken in the fridge (already cleared away so nothing's near the bird) with due care to not touch the chicken.

- When I'm ready to cook, I use a pair of large meat forks to move the bird from plate to roasting pan so I don't need to touch it anymore. Plate and forks are then immediately washed so they're ready to transfer the finished chicken from the roasting pan.

That's it! It's effective, and not so onerous that I avoid making one of my favorite meals.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:55 PM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Fascinating stuff, all! Tbh, I’m assuredly not going to do less than I do now, but some of the use guidelines for bleach are helpful—our mixture definitely is months old. As mentioned in the prompt, I use gloves for a number of things in the kitchen (not just chicken) but in practice, it might just be one dish every two or three weeks.

I’m delighted that the term “chicken hands” is prevalent. We use it too.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:35 PM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

You're going to love the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service – they have an entire site dedicated to Poultry Preparation.
posted by reeddavid at 12:12 AM on May 1, 2019

Christ, just wash your hands and your boards with soap and water. And if you care about making food taste nice at all, ignore any official temperatures for animal protein. Chicken should not taste dry.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:29 AM on May 12, 2019

Chicken cooked to just the recommended temp (I think it's 165) should not be dry. You need to keep a thermometer in it and take it out when it's just short of that - it rises a few degrees for another couple minutes - but it's perfect at that temp. It's going higher/longer that ruins it.
posted by Miko at 6:55 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Miko, with respect, that's nonsense. It's amazing how many people still have never eaten chicken beast that's not overcooked. There's a chasm of difference between 74°C chicken and 60°C chicken. The latter can be made completely safe and is far superior. Also, time is almost irrelevant as with every animal protein if you are controlling the temperature properly.
posted by turkeyphant at 7:32 PM on May 17, 2019

That is worth a whole lot of contextualization lest people here try cooking their chicken to 140F(60C) without much more care and knowledge than that comment suggests.

First, we need to note that cooking chicken to about 160 and then letting it rest and continue to climb to 165 out of the oven will not produce dry chicken - it simply will not. Letting it sit in the oven at 165 for 10 minutes, of course, certainly can. The top temperature is the target beyond which you stop the cooking process - not the time you let the whole thing sit at. 165 is given as a safe target for casual cooks because you can't screw it up.

But if you're going to cook chicken to 140F(60C) because you like the texture, you need to do that carefully and allow it to sit at that temp for a longer time to achieve the same destruction of harmful bacteria. This is the whole principle behind sous vide. But in an oven, this can only be done accurately using a probe thermometer to verify that the chicken stays at the target internal temp for the required amount of time. So not only is time not "irrelevant," it is the only factor rendering low-temp chicken safe. Instructions here.
posted by Miko at 4:41 AM on May 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

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