Properly handling and cooking meat is key to avoiding illnesses caused by pathogens like salmonella, but there’s a fine line between the technical aspects and the art of telling whether a piece of meat has been adequately cooked. A new study recently published in PLOS ONE found that when it comes to chicken, many people who cook it at home may not be doing it properly.
Raw chicken can contain a number of risky bacteria that are destroyed when cooked to a certain temperature. There are a number of recommendations for how to tell whether the chicken is fully cooked, but the new study notes that these tend to ‘vary widely’ and that it’s unclear which methods are most commonly used by people who cook chicken at home.
In order to shed light on that, the study surveyed nearly 4,000 households across Europe to inquire about how they cook chicken. This survey was conducted in addition to the observation of chicken cooking that took place in 75 households throughout Norway, France, Romania, Portugal, and the UK.
As it turns out, many people — in Europe, at least — determine whether the chicken is thoroughly cooked by looking at the color of the inner meat; the researchers found that around half of households used this method. Beyond that, many people also used the color of the chicken juice or the texture of the chicken to decide whether it was fully cooked.
Which is best?
The researchers tested these different methods and found that they aren’t reliably able to demonstrate whether the chicken has cooked to a high enough internal temperature to kill off all of the pathogens, potentially putting people at risk of illness.
Adding in a layer of complexity, the researchers found that even if a thermometer showed the internal chicken temperature as adequately hot, there may still be pathogens on the outside of the chicken. In most cases, though, the study found that very few households even bothered with meat thermometers.
At this point in time, the researchers are recommending that home chefs pay attention to three aspects of the chicken for the best odds of avoiding illness: the texture and color in the thickest part of the meat, as well as the surface temperature, which must be hot enough to kill off any nasty bacteria that may be present.