Blog: Why are we panicking about chicken?

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This past 24 hours, I’ve seen  not one, but two stories on chicken that have really got my feathers in a fluff.

The first comes from the UK, where supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has announced it’s going to sell touch-free chicken. They will provide plastic pouches in their chicken packets, so the poor wee millennials who don’t like the feel of chicken don’t have to touch it – it goes straight in the pan. (And I’m not being mean to millennials – UK research showed 37% of people born after 1980 didn’t like touching raw meat, as opposed to 27% of the rest of the population.)

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that some people really don’t like the feel of raw meat – to them it’s like nails down a chalkboard. But to me, this is yet another step in removing people from the reality of what their food is.

We need to be in touch with our food and its processes. Plastic should not be our first thought when it comes to what we see as ‘safe’ to touch. Plastic isn’t safe to our planet at all.

So, if you really don’t like touching raw chicken, I have an idea. HAVE YOU HEARD OF TONGS? They do the same thing! Just open the packet with a knife, pick up the chicken with tongs and transfer to the pan. You can even season it the same way and never even touch the chicken! Imagine that. And at no point does this surprisingly simple process mean yet more damaging plastic packaging that ends up polluting our lands and waters.

Now I’m not saying that these new plastic packs have been created because of a lack of education around safe food handling practices, or that they have come about because of simple stupidity. However, one woman in the company’s focus group said she actually sprayed her chicken with antibacterial Dettol spray before eating it because she was so worried about bacteria. Wonder if she’s ever read the ingredients list on the back of a bottle of kitchen spray?!

The second story comes from here in New Zealand, where researchers want safety hazard labels on our chicken because of the risk of contracting campylobacteriosis. Apparently about 600 people a year are hospitalised from the disease, which is contracted several ways, including cross-contamination from raw chicken handling, buying food at takeaways, exposure to fecal matter, being in contact with farm animals, drinking raw milk or unfiltered water, or through contact with ‘recreational’ water like lakes and rivers.

While I get how important it is to stay safe, surely rather than hazard labels, we need education around how to handle raw poultry? Surely we don’t live in such a hopeless world that we need to start labelling our chicken in the same way we label cigarettes?

Although I have definite and strong feelings around the need for all our chicken farming to be working towards free range, stamping out the cruel and unhealthy practice of cage farming for good, for now I’ll stick to the point. So, in order to minimise your risk of contracting campylobacteriosis or any other ailment from chicken, here are some basic suggestions that, if used, will ensure your chicken is safe, and delicious.

 

  • Cut and prepare chicken on a specific board. Coloured boards are an easy way to ensure any raw meat droplets never get near any of your other food. If your blue board is for raw poultry, label it, and never use it for anything else.
  • If you don’t like touching raw chicken, don’t. As I’ve explained above, the use of tongs or any kitchen implement means no-one needs to touch it if they don’t want to. And please, please don’t ever spray your chicken with antibacterial spray…
  • As soon as you get your chicken home from the shop, wrap it well if you think there’s any chance the packaging is leaking. Make sure it stays on the bottom shelf, on a plate if necessary, to prevent any drips.
  • Wash and dry your hands, and any utensils you’ve used, after handling raw poultry. Drying is just as important as washing.
  • Ensure your chicken is cooked through. Any sign of pink – stick it back in the oven or on the barbecue. If you’re not confident cooking on the barbecue, pre-cook your chicken first, and just finish it off on the barbecue.

 

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