Chicken, turkey and duck are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of protein for you and your family. But because raw poultry can carry bacteria and other germs that can make people sick, keeping your poultry safe is important. So here's some tips to help you shop for, store, and cook poultry as well as clean and sanitize the surfaces it has touched.

Sanitize the shopping cart handle.

Beware! Bacteria and other germs may be lurking on the handle of your shopping cart. Take advantage of those free sanitizer wipes usually found by the carts, and wipe down the handle. That way if the customer before you touched a leaking package of chicken, those juices won’t end up on your hands.

Make the meat department one of your last stops when shopping.

Bacteria grow well when chicken and other poultry is left out at room temperature. That’s why the meat department should be one of the last stops on your shopping list. Why? This will reduce the time poultry spends riding around in your cart and will help keep bacteria from growing.

Make sure the poultry is fresh.

You should buy poultry that is as fresh as possible. Here’s what to look for:

Feature Fresh Poultry Spoiled Poultry
Color Natural color Purple or green around the neck
(whole poultry)
Dark wing tips (red are acceptable)
Odor No odor Abnormal, unpleasant odor
Texture Firm flesh that springs
back when touched
Stickiness around wings or joints
Packaging Packaging that is intact & clean Packaging that is torn or dirty

And here's another shopping tip: when you're buying frozen poultry, such as turkey or duck, make sure there are no large ice crystals on the food or the packaging. This is a sign that the food has thawed and was refrozen. While thawed, bacteria may have had a
chance to grow and could make you or your family sick.

Buy poultry before the “sell-by” date.

The sell-by date on a package of poultry lets store employees know
how long they have to sell it. While the date is based on quality, the
USDA recommends that you buy raw poultry before the sell-by date.

Bag raw poultry before placing it into your cart.

The meat department usually provides disposable plastic bags for bagging
up packages of raw meat and poultry. Use these to stop poultry juices from
leaking onto your other groceries.

Store raw poultry away from other food in your cart.

Don’t put packages of raw chicken on top of ready-to-eat food such as produce, bread,
or deli meat. That’s asking for trouble. Try putting it on the bottom of the cart, where you put your cases of water or soda.

Sanitize your hands after touching raw poultry.

It’s a good idea to use a little hand sanitizer after touching packages of raw poultry. It will help prevent you from spreading bacteria to other food and surfaces in the store.

Bag poultry safely when using the self-checkout.

If you are bagging your own groceries, make sure you don’t bag raw poultry with ready-to-eat food. Otherwise those chicken breasts you just bought could end up leaking onto your apples or grapes. And always double-bag packages of raw poultry. That second bag might just stop a leak and keep you or your family from getting sick.

Keep poultry nice and cool on the car ride home.

Poultry can be exposed to high temperatures during the car ride home, especially during summer months! Get in the habit of storing poultry in insulated shopping bags. A good old fashioned cooler will also do the trick. If you can, store poultry inside the car rather than in the trunk during summer months. Your air conditioner will keep the poultry cooler than it would be in the trunk.

Keep your shopping route as short as possible.

When you’re done buying groceries, go home and put them away. Running a bunch of other errands after shopping can put your food at risk. In other words, don’t buy poultry then get a haircut and catch a movie.

Refrigerate poultry as fast as possible.

After unpacking your groceries, get the chicken in the refrigerator at warp speed! Leaving it out gives bacteria a chance to grow & could make you or your family sick.

Store poultry at the correct temperature.

Your refrigerator should be set to hold food at an internal temperature of 40°F (4°C) or lower. That goes for poultry too! Check the temperature of a chicken breast or two. You’ll need a thermometer to do it. If the temperature is above 40°F (4°C), lower the temperature of your refrigerator.

Label leftover poultry before storing it.

Labeling leftovers will help you know when to toss them. Leftover poultry and poultry dishes kept at 40°F (4°C) or lower can be used for up to seven days before they must be thrown out. The count begins the day you store the leftovers. So, if you prepared a delicious chicken casserole on Monday, the use-by date for the leftovers would be the following Sunday.

Store raw poultry away from other food.

Never let raw poultry drip onto other food in your refrigerator. Putting the poultry in a closed container will help stop this. A deep pan will work as long as it’s covered with plastic wrap. You can also put raw poultry into large food-storage bags. For a better solution—buy a food-storage container with a lid that’s only used for raw poultry. Whatever you do, always store raw poultry on the bottom shelf in your refrigerator.

Don’t thaw poultry at room temperature.

Your mom probably did it, and before her, your grandma probably did it as well. But thawing food on the counter is a family tradition you don’t want to pass down to your children. When poultry is thawed at room temperature, any bacteria on it will grow. The longer the poultry sits out, the more likely it is that the bacteria will grow to unsafe levels and make you or your family sick. See the General Food Safety section for different ways that you can thaw food safely.

Keep raw and ready-to-eat food separate.

When cooking, you have to keep things separate. That’s really important when you’re preparing raw food such as poultry, and food that will not be cooked, such as lettuce. One of the worst things you can do is cut up these food items on the same cutting board. There’s a chance that the poultry juice will end up on the lettuce, and that can make you or your family sick. Pick up some colored cutting boards. They usually come in sets of red, green, yellow, and blue, with each color being used for a different type of food. The yellow cutting board should only be used for raw poultry, the red for raw meat, the green for produce, and the blue for raw fish. Add a white cutting board for cooked food and you’re on your way to preventing the spread of bacteria in your kitchen.

Wash your hands after handling raw poultry.

This is especially important before handling ready-to-eat food. See the General
Food Safety
section for some handwashing tips that will help keep your family safe.

Cook raw poultry to the correct temperature.

The only way to kill bacteria on poultry is to cook it to the correct temperature. That’s the internal temperature of the food, not the temperature of the oven you’re using to cook it.
You’ll need a thermometer to do this correctly. See the General Food Safety section for
some tips on how to use thermometers correctly. Poultry must be cooked to at least 165°F (74°C). That includes whole or ground chicken, turkey, or duck. The food must stay at this temperature for at least 15 seconds.

Never leave cooked poultry out for long periods of time.

After dinner, you’re in the clear to take a much-needed break, right? Wrong. A common mistake when cooking is letting the evening meal sit out at room temperature for hours at a time. Cooking food does not kill all of the bacteria on it. Any that remains will grow, especially if the food is left at room temperature. This can make you or your family sick.

You might be tempted to stick cooked chicken or turkey directly into the refrigerator to cool it. However that would be a mistake. Most refrigerators can’t cool the food fast enough. Here are a couple of tips: Place chicken breasts into plastic storage bags and then put them in a clean sink full of cold water. Adding ice to the water will cool the chicken down even faster. If you’re trying to cool a whole bird, cut it into smaller pieces first. Then put them in storage bags and cool them in cold water.

One last warning: When serving chicken or turkey buffet-style for a dinner party, make sure it doesn’t sit out for more than four hours. Any longer than four hours, and you’ll have to throw it out.

Reheat poultry to the correct temperature.

If you’re reheating leftover poultry or poultry dishes for a meal that’s going to be eaten immediately, it’s safe to reheat them to any temperature. But if you are keeping the poultry warm while serving it buffet style, you have to reheat it to at least 165°F (74°C). And it can’t take longer than two hours to do it.


Clean and sanitize after preparing raw poultry.

Don’t just clean, sanitize too! You might think that you don’t have time, but it’s an important step in keeping you and others safe. Any equipment used to prepare poultry must be washed, rinsed and sanitized without exception. That includes countertops, knives, cutting boards, tongs and other utensils. A quick rinse will not work and will put everyone at risk. See the General Food Safety section to find out how to clean and sanitize safely.

SpillageCleaning the SurfaceSanitizing

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