A new study has revealed that many people are using unsafe techniques to cook chicken at home. Common methods used to assess doneness often fail to guarantee safety from bacterial contamination, according to the researchers.
High temperatures kill infectious bacteria that is present in raw chicken, such as salmonella and campylobacter, but these microbes can persist if chicken is undercooked.
The recommendations for cooking chicken at home are widely variable, which means the safety of home-cooked chicken is questionable.
Study lead author Solveig Langsrud is a senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research.
“Most people think you can look at the color change from pink to white and that suggests it’s ready,” Langsrud told CNN. “We couldn’t find anything in the scientific literature backing this up, so we decided to look into it.”
The researchers surveyed nearly 4,000 households in France, Norway, Portugal, Romania, and the U.K. to learn how chicken is commonly prepared. The team also observed chicken cooking practices in 75 additional homes.
About half of the households checked the inner color of chicken to judge doneness, while others relied on meat texture or juice color.
Using lab experiments, the experts demonstrated that color and texture are not reliable indicators of safety. For example, the inner color of chicken changes at temperatures that are too low to kill pathogens.
While the use of thermometers is widely recommended to check for doneness, the researchers found that the surface of chicken can still harbor infectious bacteria after the inside of the meat is sufficiently cooked.
The findings highlight the need for improved guidelines that can account for consumer habits while ensuring safety. In the meantime, the researchers recommend focusing on the color and texture of the thickest part of the chicken, as well as measuring temperatures on the surface of the meat.
“Consumers are often advised to use a food thermometer or check that the juices run clear to make sure that the chicken is cooked safely – we were surprised to find that these recommendations are not safe, not based on scientific evidence and rarely used by consumers,” said Dr. Langsrud.
“Primarily, consumers should check that all surfaces of the meat are cooked, as most bacteria are present on the surface. Secondly, they should check the core. When the core meat is fibrous and not glossy, it has reached a safe temperature.”
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.