Are you cooking chicken wrong? Study finds home cooks may be putting health at risk

May 01, 2020
A new study has found most people don't know how to cook chicken safely. Source: Getty.

As a kid, you were probably taught that chicken is safe to eat only when its juices run clear and the meat is no longer pink. But it turns out you may have been cooking chicken incorrectly all these years, and it might be putting your health at risk, with research from Europe showing it’s not a good way of judging if it’s safe to eat.

The study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at how the general population decides when a bird is done. The researchers surveyed 3,969 private households across five European countries — France, Norway, Portugal, Romania, and the UK — and found many people judge doneness purely by the colour or texture of the meat.

However, the researchers also conducted laboratory experiments to test various techniques for judging doneness and found that changes in the colour and texture of the chicken weren’t reliable indicators of whether it was cooked through. For example, the inner colour of chicken changes at a temperature too low to sufficiently kill all pathogens and bacteria can remain on the surface of chicken meat after the inside is cooked completely.

“Consumers are often advised to use a food thermometer or check that the juices run clear to make sure that the chicken is cooked safely — we were surprised to find that these recommendations are not safe, not based on scientific evidence and rarely used by consumers,” lead author Dr Solveig Langsrud said.

So, what’s the best method to tell if the chicken is done? Langsrud says that you should first check that all surfaces of the meat are cooked, “as most bacteria are present on the surface”. Secondly, you should check the core. He says when the core meat is fibrous and not glossy, it has reached a safe temperature.

This isn’t the only thing home cooks are getting wrong either. Eggs are one of the biggest sources of food poisoning if they are not handled or prepared correctly and many people put themselves at unnecessary risk when preparing uncooked dishes, sauces and dressings that contain raw or lightly cooked eggs such as fresh mayonnaise, mousses, tiramisu or egg nog.

Previous research released by the Australian Food Safety Information Council found one in five people didn’t realise that homemade mayonnaise containing egg needed to be refrigerated immediately, while 2 per cent believed it could be left out of the fridge all night and 7 per cent didn’t know what to do at all.

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