There’s a reason “tastes like chicken” is such a popular phrase. Most home cooks reach for boneless, skinless chicken breast for just about any meal. (We know because you’ve sent in thousands of recipes, like these, for it!) Chicken is cheap, plentiful and pairs with nearly anything. But it’s important to remember to take heed when preparing this bird. Raw chicken can be harmful if it’s not handled with care. Cook your next chicken dinner safely by avoiding these common mistakes.
Mistake 1: Leaving chicken out too long
Many cooks will put chicken out on the counter to thaw, then promptly forget about it. But it’s important to treat chicken as an item with a time stamp. At room temperature, meat can begin to develop harmful bacteria, which if consumed may result in various foodborne illnessess-aka food poisoning.
What to do instead: Place chicken in the fridge immediately after you’ve finished shopping. Only take it out when you are prepared to cook. If the chicken is frozen, thaw it in the fridge up to two days before cooking.
Mistake 2: Storing it improperly
Think your meat can stay on any shelf in the fridge? Think again. Chicken juice has a tendency to leak and drip outside of its container. This can be bad news (contamination) if it comes into contact with your produce.
What to do instead: Place chicken on a plate, then cover and store on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Surprised? See what else you may be storing wrong.
Mistake 3: Rinsing chicken before you cook
Contrary to popular opinion, raw chicken doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) rinsed in any way. Rinsing can cause bacteria on the chicken to splash and cling to surrounding surfaces, rather than eliminating them from the chicken.
Mistake 4: Marinating it improperly
Chicken tastes delicious with a zesty marinade. In fact, it’s one of the easiest ways to tenderize the meat. However, leaving chicken on the counter to marinate can take your dinner from delicious to dangerous, as bacteria can grow better when it’s warm. And though it may seem thrifty, never reuse marinade after it’s come into contact with raw meat.
What to do instead: Marinate your chicken in a plastic bag (or other closed container) in the refrigerator. Toss the juices in the container when you are done.
Mistake 5: Reusing tools that have touched raw chicken
If you’re a savvy cook, you probably know a thing or two about mutlitasking. It’s a time-saver to bounce around the kitchen, stirring a skillet one moment and slicing vegetables the next. When it comes to handling chicken, however, cross-contamination can put you at risk for salmonella. Avoid using utensils, cookware, cutting boards and anything else after they’ve been exposed to raw chicken.
What to do instead: Thoroughly wash items after they come into contact with the chicken.
Mistake 6: Letting raw chicken touch other foods
For those who work in tiny kitchens, the cutting board can be priceless space. It may seem easy to chop the romaine lettuce for your salad on the same surface where you’ve cut your raw chicken into slices. Unfortunately, this is an easy way for chicken juice to seep into, and yes, contaminate your food.
What to do instead: Avoid placing raw chicken near ingredients that aren’t being cooked. Here are some great storage ideas to help organize that tiny kitchen, or any kitchen.
Mistake 7: Forgetting to wash your hands
Your hands are often the best tool when it comes to breading and seasoning your protein. But be careful; once they come in contact with chicken juice, they can quickly cross-contaminate anything you touch. Drawer knobs, countertops, seasoning bottles and much more may be covered in harmful bacteria.
What to do instead: Take extra care not to touch any surfaces after handling raw chicken. And if you do, be sure to wipe them down afterwards. A technique that can help is to practice handling chicken using only one hand. That way, the other hand is free to grab the saltshaker or turn on the water when needed.
Mistake 8: Keeping the same sponge in rotation for months
You might be careful to wash your tools after they come into contact with raw chicken-but have you thought about the sponge you use to clean those tools? Generally, we think of sponges, dishrags, and other tools as clean items, but they’re home to dangerous pathogens and bacteria-especially if you’ve been using them to clean tools that touched raw chicken.
What to do instead: Sanitize your sponges every other day and wash your dishtowels regularly. (One way is to put a wet sponge in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.) Then, replace sponges or cleaning cloths every 2-3 weeks, depending on how often they come into contact with poultry items.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? Maybe at first, but over time the new good habits will become automatic. Plus, the peace of mind you gain knowing your chicken dinner has been cooked safely makes it taste that much better.