Instructions: Whats for dinner tonight? Theres a good chance its chicken - the No. 1 protein consumed by Americans. Judging by the thousands of calls that they receive each year, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline reports that consumers have a great interest in safe handling and cooking of chicken.
The chicken is a descendant of the Southeast Asian red jungle fowl first domesticated in India around 2000 B.C. Most of the birds raised for meat in America today are from the Cornish (a British breed) and the White Rock (a breed developed in New England). Broiler-fryers, roasters, stewing-baking hens, capons, and Rock Cornish hens are all chickens.
All chickens found in retail stores are either inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or by state systems, which have standards equivalent to the federal government. Each chicken and its internal organs are inspected for signs of disease. The "Inspected for wholesomeness by the U.S. Department of Agriculture" seal insures the chicken is free from visible signs of disease.
Inspection is mandatory but grading is voluntary. Chickens are graded according to USDA Agricultural Marketing Service regulations and standards for meatiness, appearance, and freedom from defects. Grade A chickens have plump, meaty bodies and clean skin, free of bruises, broken bones, feathers, cuts and discoloration.
Some people worry about animal protein sources containing hormones or antibiotics. No hormones are used in the raising of chickens. Antibiotics may be given to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. A "withdrawal"
period is required from the time antibiotics are administered before the bird can be slaughtered. This ensures that no residues are present in the birds system. The Food Safety Inspection Service randomly samples poultry at slaughter and tests for residues. Data from this monitoring program have shown a very low percentage of residue violations.
Additives are not allowed on fresh chicken. If chicken is processed, however, additives such as MSG, salt or sodium erythorbate may be added, and must be listed on the label.
How to handle chicken safely
Fresh Chicken: Chicken is kept cold during distribution to retail stores to prevent the growth of bacteria and to increase its shelf life. Chicken should feel cold to the touch when purchased. Select fresh chicken just before checking out at the register. Put packages of chicken in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Make the grocery store your last stop before going home.
At home, immediately place chicken in a refrigerator that maintains a temperature of 40 degrees, and use within one or two days, or freeze at 0 degrees. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.
Chicken may be frozen in its original packaging or repackaged. If freezing longer than two months, overwrap the porous store plastic packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper, or place the package inside a freezer bag. Use these materials or airtight freezer containers to repackage family packs into smaller amounts or freeze the chicken from opened packages.
Proper wrapping prevents "freezer burn," which appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of food.
Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the chicken.
Heavily freezer-burned products may have to be discarded because they might be too dry or tasteless.
Ready-prepared chicken: When purchasing fully cooked rotisserie or fast-food chicken, be sure it is hot at time of purchase. Use it within two hours or cut it into several pieces and refrigerate in shallow, covered containers. Eat within three to four days, either cold or reheated to 165 degrees (hot and steaming). It is safe to freeze ready-prepared chicken. For best quality, flavor and texture, use within four months.
FSIS recommends three ways to defrost chicken: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Never defrost chicken on the counter or in other locations.
Its best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Boneless chicken breasts will usually defrost overnight. Bone-in parts and whole chickens may take one to two days or longer. Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in the refrigerator an additional day or two before cooking. During this time, if chicken defrosted in the refrigerator is not used, it can safely be refrozen without cooking first.
Chicken may be defrosted in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leakproof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. A whole (3- to 4-pound)
broiler-fryer or package of parts should defrost in two to three hours. A 1-pound package of boneless breasts will defrost in an hour or less.
Chicken defrosted in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldnt have been destroyed. Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
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