Don’t be chicken when it comes to food safety
There’s no doubt that chicken is one of New Zealand’s favourite foods.
We love it fried, roasted and cooked on the BBQ.
Despite our love of chicken, Kiwis throw away 3,400 tonnes of poultry every year – and that’s NOT including chicken bones. That’s over $40 million of chicken going to waste.
Chicken is often linked to food poisoning, so it is no surprise that at times we are overcautious when it comes to eating it.
We’ve answered the most common questions about chicken so you can be confident that it will be safe to eat.
How do I keep my chicken cold when I buy it?
If chicken rises above 5⁰C it is at risk of developing harmful bacteria, so it is important to keep it cold, especially during your trip home from the supermarket. Wrap your chicken in a plastic bag (so it doesn’t drip onto your other food) and pack it next to your other cold items. If you have a long journey home, take a chiller bag and ice pack. Refrigerate it as soon as you get home.
Can I eat it after its use by date?
Fresh chicken definitely should not be eaten past its use-by date. But if your freeze your chicken before or on its use by date, it will be safe to eat. If you are unsure when you will eat your chicken, it is safest to freeze it, rather than leaving it in the fridge.
How do I defrost chicken?
Chicken ideally needs to be defrosted in the fridge. Allow 10-12 hours per kilo. Make sure you put it on a plate or in a container so that the chicken juices can’t drip onto other food. If you are defrosting a whole chicken it may take more than a day to defrost in the fridge, so plan ahead. It is safe to defrost chicken in a microwave, however it then needs to be cooked immediately.
Should I wash my chicken?
No. Chicken in New Zealand can contain campylobacter which is a bacteria which can make you ill. However, it is only unsafe if the chicken is not cooked properly or if the raw juices contaminate other food or cooking implements. Washing chicken will not remove the campylobacter. In fact, you should not wash chicken as it runs the risk that you may spread the bacteria onto other items such as hands, utensils or your kitchen bench.
Do I really have to use separate cooking equipment when preparing chicken?
Yes. You need to be very careful to keep the raw chicken separate from other foods.
Use a different chopping board and knife and make sure you wash them with boiling water and detergent before using them to prepare other foods (or put them in the dishwasher).
When cooking chicken, use one set of tongs to put the raw chicken into the pan or onto the barbecue, then use a different set to remove the cooked chicken.
How do I know if it is cooked?
It is vital that chicken is cooked all the way through – never eat undercooked chicken. The best way to test if your chicken is cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken and check that the temperature has reached 75⁰C. If you don’t have a meat thermometer check to see if the juices run clear and make sure that the meat isn’t pink.
What do I do with the leftovers?
Cool any leftover chicken immediately and get it into the fridge as soon as possible. Make sure it is covered or sealed in a container. Leftover cooked chicken should last for a couple of days in the fridge.
Can I freeze cooked chicken?
You can freeze cooked chicken. Follow the thawing guidelines above and only reheat cooked chicken once.
Is it safe to reheat cooked chicken?
To safely reheat cooked chicken, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 75⁰C. Do not reheat more than once.
If you are reheating chicken in the microwave you need to stir or turn the chicken to make sure that all parts are heated evenly. Keep the chicken covered so that it doesn’t dry out.
Can I put chicken in my child’s lunch box?
Be wary if you are giving your children chicken to take to school, especially in the summer heat. If you are giving them chicken, try to pack a cold pack (or frozen drink) to keep their lunchbox cold.