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Food Safety from Farm to Table: Taking Precautions to Avoid Salmonella

With more people cooking at home, it’s a good reminder to brush up on our food safety practices. We wanted to bring some awareness to Salmonella and safe handling from farm to plate. Salmonella infection is a common food safety concern. Did you know that about 6,000 to 12,000 cases of salmonella infection are reported in Canada each year (Canadian Meat Council)

While it is possible to come in contact with salmonella, the industry is continually conducting research to learn how frequently salmonella occurs and how to improve food safety practices so that consumers can be assured their food is safe to eat. We are sharing how food safety is important from farm to table, as well as a few key tips for how to safely handle raw poultry in your home to prevent contact with the bacteria.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria that exists in the gut of some animals and birds, including chicken, turkey and other poultry. When people eat food contaminated with some strains of Salmonella, there is a risk of becoming ill with Salmonellosis. However, according to Chicken Farmers of Canada, not all strains of Salmonella will make you sick, and precautions are taken throughout the entire processing cycle to reduce the risk of raw poultry containing traces of the bacteria.

Food Safety from Farm to Table:

Food safety always begins on the farm. According to the Chicken Farmers of Canada, “The On-Farm Food Safety Program emphasizes animal health, cleanliness and safety throughout each step of the production cycle and follows strict biosecurity measures to protect animal health and prevent flock infections from outside sources.”

Since Salmonella bacteria is naturally occurring in the bird, it can’t be prevented in the bird itself. However, live birds can spread the bacteria to their surroundings, so it’s important to take additional measures to keep the environment clean. Maintaining cleanliness of the birds’ environment and implementing biosecurity measures is an industry priority to keep the external spread of the bacteria at bay, both on the farm and during transportation to the processing plants.

Additionally, poultry processing plants take careful precautions to prevent salmonella contamination of the raw chicken meat. The bacteria naturally exist in the gut of the poultry, so the gut is fully removed during processing. Of course, even with precautions in place, it is never 100% effective, and there is a possibility that small residues of the bacteria can contaminate the poultry meat. Fortunately, any small traces of salmonella that may have transferred to the raw meat are killed once the meat is cooked thoroughly.

Best Practices for Safely Handling Chicken at Home

With the safety measures and precautions taken throughout the processing cycle, there’s a lower risk of the raw poultry meat being contaminated with Salmonella. However, since there is always a possibility of the raw poultry containing traces of bacteria, the most important way to avoid salmonella infection comes down to proper food handling, preparation and cooking.

Here are a few tips for safe handling practices at home:

- Don’t wash the poultry. Contrary to popular belief, when you buy a chicken from the grocery store, you don’t need to wash it. In fact, it’s recommended not to, since the raw chicken could contain bacteria, and washing the chicken increases the chances that the bacteria could be spread to other surfaces.

- When you’re done preparing the chicken, wash your hands and any knives, boards or work surfaces that touched the chicken thoroughly with hot soapy water.

- Plastic cutting boards are much easier to sanitize than wooden ones.

- Do not use chicken or turkey if it appears grey, feels slimy or has a sour smell - Cook the poultry thoroughly to 170 degrees Fahrenheit for white meat and 180 degrees Fahrenheit for dark meat. An instant-read, digital food thermometer that measures internal temperature is the best way to determine if chicken has been cooked all the way through.

- Refrigerate chicken and use within 3-5 days after cooking it.

The views expressed in this document are those of Taste Alberta and do not

necessarily reflect the provincial and federal governments.

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