It just had to be the food group kids live on: Poultry is the number one source of food poisoning in the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But before you toss your chicken nuggets, you should know that the secret to a safe bird is surprisingly simple. (Hint: It's a meat thermometer.) Nancy Donley, a food-safety expert and the president of Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.), breaks down what you need to know to keep your family healthy.
How can you tell if poultry is contaminated? You can't. Even if it looks and smells fine, the only way to ensure that poultry -- and any other meat -- is safe to eat is to cook it thoroughly. For poultry, that means heating it until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Use an instant-read meat thermometer (about $15 at the grocery store), and wash it after each use. Thanksgiving-turkey tip: Bake your stuffing in a separate pan -- it's easier, faster, and safer. Stuffing in the bird can be a breeding ground for bacteria, and it takes longer to cook, which dries out the meat.
Should I rinse raw poultry before cooking? No. Rinsing raw meat will only contaminate your whole sink. Instead, prepare your chicken or turkey on a clean cutting board away from all other foods. Have your seasonings and marinades ready to go, to minimize touching cabinet doors and other items with your hands after handling the raw meat. Wash your hands frequently.
What about frozen chicken fingers and other convenience poultry products? Follow the instructions on the package to the letter. If the directions say "Cook for five minutes and let stand for five minutes," don't skip the standing time; the meat is still cooking.
Is organic poultry safer? Not when it comes to the risk of bacterial contamination. You need to take the same food-safety precautions as you do with nonorganic meats.