If you were taking in some daytime TV this week, you may have caught Tuesday’s episode of Dr. Oz in which the host and his guest Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket, voiced concerns about the safety of the chicken we purchase at the grocery store. To his credit, Dr. Oz let the audience know some important food safety tips , including using a meat thermometer to ensure chicken is cooked to 165 degrees and not washing raw chicken. However, if you’re like us, the segment still left a bad taste in your mouth, and we want to dispel a few of the unfounded fears that Leonard perpetuated.
Fear: Consumers should avoid purchasing chicken from a grocery store. Plant lines that prepare chicken run so quickly that inspectors often miss important things, like bacteria.
Fact: Strict government and company rules and regulations guarantee a safe food supply. Both are dedicated to ensuring that the meat, poultry, milk, and eggs that you purchase at the grocery store are safe and of the highest quality.
Fear: Chickens are cleaned with chemicals because they’re raised in bad conditions.
Fact: Good practices start before the grocery store, and even before the plant. Extensive measures are taken to ensure that the chickens sent to the plant are healthy and well cared for. At the plants, the U.S. federal meat and poultry inspection system is aided by companies and processors to ensure that the meat and poultry is safe, nutritious, and correctly labeled and packaged.
Fear: We don’t know enough about the presence or impact of chemicals on our chicken resulting from chemical baths.
Fact: Processing facilities use both food-grade rinses to eliminate potential foodborne pathogens and organic sprays to cleanse the chickens and inhibit bacteria. These cleanses and sprays are in no way harmful; they are actually a valuable tool to clean the birds and are continuously evaluated and monitored by the FDA and USDA for their effectiveness and safety. The allowable concentration levels set by FDA and USDA are minuscule—equivalent to one drop in two full bathtubs of water. These washes continue to help minimize the potential for bacteria, like Salmonella, to be on the chicken, improving consumer safety.
Fear: Companies are self-regulating.
Fact: On top of all precautions and strategies implemented in the plant, USDA inspectors independent of the plant and the company evaluate birds for quality issues and evaluate food safety.
Fear: There is harmful bacteria in the bulk of the chicken you buy at the grocery store, and you shouldn’t buy chicken in a package.
Fact: Processing actually minimizes the potential for bacteria, like Salmonella, to be on the chicken. Chicken products must meet or exceed rigorous safety standards set by USDA to even reach a grocery store. However, remember that all chicken is designed to be cooked, not eaten raw. Food safety is a shared responsibility.
No matter where you purchase your meat and poultry, remember to use a meat thermometer, follow the guidelines of clean, separate, cook, and chill, do not wash your chicken (it can splash raw bacteria on to kitchen surfaces), and fully cook your chicken to 165 degrees. Get more quick tips on keeping your kitchen safe on Facebook .