Why is raw chicken the napalm of meats?

Dear Straight Dope;

Why is raw chicken treated like it’s radioactive? We’re told to wash our hands after touching it, not to let it touch other foods or cooking surfaces, and on and on. These seem to be common sense proceedures when handling any type of raw meat, but it seems like raw chicken bears a very bad reputation among meats, as if it were extra dangerous…the Happy Fun Ball of foods.

This seems odd to me because I hear of far more cases of food borne illnesses caused by vegetables. We’ve got killer cantelope. Recalls of bagged salads and spinach. Canned veggie recalls. I can’t remember the last time I heard about an outbreak of food-borne illness caused by chicken, but I can remember the last time I heard of a bad batch of ground beef being sold…it was last week.

So I guess I have a few questions. Is it the way that chicken is processed, compared to the way beef and pork are processed, that causes the problem? Is the fact that people are constantly warned about raw chicken the reason I can’t remember a food-borne illness outbreak involving said chicken? Is it a matter of percentages, i.e., we as a nation consume more beef, pork and vegetables than we consume chicken?

Any help with these daunting questions appreciated. Thank you! April Hughes, Wauconda, IL.

any animal processed as quickly as possible (conveyor belt) increases the risk of bits that can poison you (intestines) getting mixed into/on the meat.

the smaller the animal (like chickens vs cows) the bigger the risk due to less room for error.

if you want to know why chickens are so filthy, this explains it. an entire book is posted, for free, on the left-hand side of the page.


The most frequent threat of raw chicken to humans is the salmonella bacteria. For instance, 16% of chickens were found to be contaminated in 2005, and Consumer Reports’ 2010 report tested storebought chicken and found 66% of them contaminated.

Because you might start going after your neighbor’s pigeons. That’s what happened when I gave our cat chicken scraps.

So why don’t we worry about duck the same way?
We’re told to make sure to cook chicken all the way through but we eat duck breast rare all the time.

Who’s we? I’d be wary about eating rare fowl of any kind.

It’s common to eat duck breast rare. I wouldn’t have it any other way (well, except for cured.) Chicken, not so much. I can’t think of a single restaurant in the US having rare chicken on the menu, while rare duck breast is fairly typical.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever ordered duck in a restaurant (only had it at home.) I guess the type of place that serves duck has more competent kitchen staff than your local KFC.

Duck isn’t processed in the same massive quantities that chicken is, which makes it harder for a small salmonella contamination to balloon into a massive outbreak.

It’s actually not that common for a particular chicken to have the salmonella bacteria. But a single infected bird can contaminate an entire batch.

It’s similar to the difference between the dangers of home cooking and restaurant cooking. At home, you’re only dealing with a single bird, and the chances of it being infected are actually quite low. That’s why most people don’t get sick, even though they don’t follow all the safety guidelines.

A restaurant, on the other hand, prepares a LOT of chickens. Any single one of those can contaminate the entire food preparation area, so for safety you have to treat EVERY bird as if it’s contaminated.

Ippuku in Berklely (an Izakaya-type place) serves it raw.

Interesting to know. I’ve heard of chicken sashimi, but have never actually seen it. I’m curious as to what it tastes like. Chicken just doesn’t look like something that would taste good raw. But, then again, neither does most fish, but it is.

How does that square with the 16% and 66% numbers reported above?

I’m curious too, but so much emphasis (as the OP talks about) on the (real) dangers makes it hard for me to contemplate objectively, I think…an ex-girlfriend of a friend of mine (Puerto Rican, FWIW) had no such hangups and would routinely nibble on raw bits while cooking (not necessarily a smart idea, of course!).

First off, birds harboring the disease are more common in factory/battery conditions. But even if 66% of live birds are carrying the organism, that does not translate into 66% of carcasses *necessarily *infected with the organism. The bacterium lives in the gut. It only usually contaminates the carcass if the gut is perforated and the gut contents come into contact with the carcass. Even then, it will only contaminate the portion of the carcass that is actually exposed. To contaminate the entire carcass you need somehow spread the infection to the entire carcass.

A home killed chicken is normally gutted quite carefully, so the entire paunch is removed intact. No spillage, no mess. The largest risk of contamination comes from faeces on the feathers around the vent, but home killed chickens are usually plucked before they are gutted or skinned, so no great danger even there. Home killed chickens are normally washed under running water, if at all, so a point of contamination won’t be transferred to the entire carcass. They are also not normally killed en masse, so the contamination of one carcass won’t result in the contamination of water used to wash other birds.

All those things means that thw risk of salmonella infection from a home killed bird is very low, almost negligible with proper handling. It’s the commercial slaughtering/dressing techniques or unsafe handling that makes it risky.

OK - it still doesn’t make sense to me.
Beef steak is consumed very rare all the time, the reason being that if you sear the outside any contamination is killed off.
Why is the same not true of chicken? if I sear the shit out of a chicken breast, why am I STILL at risk of illness?

If you merely sear beef steak, you are at risk of getting every bits as sick as if you sear chicken. People develop nasty food poisonings, especially E. coli infection, from undercooked beef all the time. With both chicken and beef, your cooking needs to take *all *the flesh up to ~50^oC to be safe. If you are searing the outside and the inside remains frozen, you are at risk.

The reason why people are more blase about beef is because most cattle carcasses are not contaminated with the nasty forms of E. coli, whereas most chicken carcasses *are *contaminated with the nasty forms of Salmonella.

It’s really that simple. Eating beef that has been seared is anything but safe. The only difference is that the probability of contracting an infection from undercooked beef that will leave you a lifelong cripple is about about a thousand times less than with chicken.

http://api.viglink.com/api/click?format=go&key=ce270d38103a630c3181db372a25a052&loc=http%3A%2F%2Fboards.straightdope.com%2Fsdmb%2Fnewreply.php%3Fdo%3Dnewreply%26p%3D15352857&v=1&libid=1344229711581&out=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.care2.com%2Fc2c%2Fshare%2Fdetail%2F127259&ref=http%3A%2F%2Fboards.straightdope.com%2Fsdmb%2Fshowthread.php%3Fp%3D15352857&title=Straight%20Dope%20Message%20Board%20-%20Reply%20to%20Topic&txt=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.care2.com%2Fc2c%2Fshare%2Fdetail%2F127259&jsonp=vglnk_jsonp_13442298351451 (astro’s link)
“In the scald tank, fecal contamination on skin and feathers gets inhaled by live birds, and hot water opens bird’s pores allowing pathogens to seep in. The pounding
action of the de-feathering machines creates an aerosol of feces-contaminated water which is then beaten into the birds”

I am just guessing here but I wonder if this has anything to do with it? The contamination ‘seeps’ in by way of the open pores of the birds; which is then beaten in further. Beef isn’t handled this way (is it?).

So your assertion is that E. Coli infection can be intramuscular? That is to say that a beef steak can have E. Coli throughout a whole uncut muscle and not exclusively on the surface?

I have never heard this and if it’s true it gives me pause.

I didn’t think Chipacabra was talking about a home-killed bird, just the difference between preparing a single bird at home vs multiple birds at a restaurant setting. If this is what was meant, then that makes sense.