Are you…chicken?

Like you, I grew up watching (and drooling) as perfectly golden-roasted whole chickens emerged from the oven.  Simply seasoned with crispy skin and juicy meat – some comfort foods can’t get more perfect.

But, for the longest time, roasted chicken never made its way into my recipe repertoire. I found myself paranoid about handling (and roasting) whole chicken. Why? In my book, chickens can be dirty birds. I worried about cross contamination, undercooking the bird, and getting raw chicken juice on my counter. Chicken is highly susceptible to bacteria – trouble that leads to foodborne illness and hours spent locked in the bathroom. Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes are just some of the usual suspects associated with raw/undercooked chicken. These bacteria are pathogenic, and can cause severe illness with symptoms including: fever, vomiting, muscle pain, diarrhea, headache, etc – but the symptoms don’t usually show until several hours (to a few days) later. In chicken, the listed pathogens are killed when the internal temperature reaches 165F.

So, I was avoiding whole, roasted chicken until… I saw a photo in Saveur magazine that nearly made me fork the page. Well. I bought a thermometer, a few canisters of antibacterial kitchen wipes, and I tried the recipe. I tasted the finished product. I looked at my chapped hands (dry from washing them at least a dozen times during prep). And I made a decision to never forsake the whole chicken again. Simply seasoned with crispy skin and juicy meat – it was one perfect comfort.

I decided to make the same recipe again tonight!

A Food Science tid-bite: Wash your hands when cooking. Let me repeat. WASH your hands. You might think it’s okay to dip that pre-licked finger back into the bowl, but please don’t. It’s not just about swapping spit.  A serious pathogen, Staph aureus, is found on human skin, and in throats and noses. (Think of how many times you see people wipe their noses, or cough into their hands – are you grossed out yet?)  The pathogen is transferred by improper handling, multiplies rapidly at room temperature, and shows itself with wicked symptoms.  

For more detail on foodborne illness in chicken, visit the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service website: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/Chicken_Food_Safety_Focus/index.asp

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