Q: I just heard something about a salmonella outbreak around grocery store chickens in Florida. Do we need to stop eating chicken again? For how long? Why isn’t it in the news?
Answer: Florida has been part of an ongoing salmonella outbreak since the end of last year. However, the four people in Florida got sick in October, and there have not been any more cases here since then.
People are still getting sick in other states though, as recently as last month. Most of the illnesses are on the West Coast. The cases are all linked to rotisserie chicken of the Foster Farms brand. Whole chickens, chicken salad, soup and leg quarters of the rotisserie chickens were all found to have the same kind of salmonella. Most were sold by Costco. All of the chicken has been recalled. Still, if you have any of that brand frozen since last year, don’t use it. Return it to the store.
All chicken might be carrying salmonella, but that’s not a reason to stop eating it. Handle and cook it properly, and all the bacteria will be killed. In summer heat, it’s more important than ever to handle chicken safely. Keep it chilled. Carry chicken home from the store in an iced cooler and refrigerate it right away. Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator. Keep raw meats, especially chicken, separated from the other foods in your grocery cart, in the bags as you carry it home, and in the refrigerator.
Do NOT wash chicken before you cook it! That only splashes bacteria around your kitchen. Use a thermometer when you cook chicken. The thickest part of the meat (not bone) must reach 165 degrees to be safe. Digital thermometers read more quickly than dials, but either works.
Use two plates and sets of utensils for cooking or grilling chicken: one for the raw items and one for the cooked. Chill cooked chicken quickly. When the temperature is 90 degrees, it will be safe for only one hour at room temperature. Reheat cooked chicken to 165 degrees, too. Wash your hands often, and have a healthy, fun summer!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.