Raw food diets have become popular recently, especially for people with dietary restrictions. The intention of raw food diets is to promote meatless nutrition based on raw vegetables and fruits. Over time, meats have made their way into raw food diets.
While people eat rare steaks and raw fish like sushi without issue, not all meats go through the same production or carry the same bacteria. Chicken is one of those risky meats.
Chicken, Beef, and Seafood: What’s the Difference?
Raw fish and steak aren’t without their bacteria. In fact, there is always a risk of getting sick from them. Where the food comes from and how it’s prepared is what makes it safe to eat.
Steak and beef. Steak is unique because of its cut. The interior of the steak is the raw muscle that hasn’t been exposed to contamination. Searing the exterior of the steak kills bacteria while maintaining the integrity of the meat within.
Ground beef is different. Since it’s typically gathered from multiple cows, the chance of contamination is high. Cooking it kills off harmful bacteria.
Raw fish.Raw fish, on the other hand, is served cold. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that raw fish be frozen at temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit to kill any lingering parasites.
Chicken. Raw chicken (and pork) can contain a variety of foodborne illnesses. Ingesting raw chicken or its juices can put you at risk from several types of bacteria. Chicken can only be safely eaten when handled, prepared, and cooked accordingly.
Risks When Eating Raw Chicken
Raw chicken can be contaminated by a variety of bacteria, but it’s commonly contaminated with Campylobacter, salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens bacteria.
The risks and infections from raw chicken typically come in the form of gastroenteritis, commonly known as food poisoning, a stomach bug, or stomach flu. While symptoms will vary between people, common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
Campylobacter Infection. Also known as campylobacteriosis, Campylobacter infections are the most common type of bacterial stomach flu. Some of the common causes are raw or undercooked foods, contaminated or untreated water, contaminated produce, and unpasteurized dairy products.
Symptoms of a Campylobacter infection begin 2 to 5 days after infection. While symptoms last, drinking lots of water is important to combat dehydration from diarrhea. Most people will recover after about a week without antibiotic treatment.
Salmonella. Salmonella bacteria live in the intestinal tract and are often transmitted through contact with feces.
- Raw meat and poultry can come in contact with feces when butchered and be contaminated
- Seafood can carry salmonella bacteria when harvested from contaminated water
- Raw eggs can be contaminated when a chicken is infected with salmonella bacteria
- Fruits and vegetables can be contaminated from contaminated water and when in contact with raw meat while cooking
Symptoms from salmonella appear within a few hours or up to 6 days after infection. Most people will recover after 4 to 7 days without particular treatment.
Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) food poisoning. C. perfringens bacteria grows and multiplies when food is kept at unsafe temperatures. The bacteria become toxic when swallowed, causing a stomach bug. C. perfringens outbreaks typically happen when food is made in large quantities and kept at an unsafe temperature, such as in hospitals, schools, or at large events.
Symptoms typically begin in less than 24 hours after eating foods contaminated with C. perfringens. Severe symptoms usually fade within 24 hours, but more mild symptoms may last for an extra week or two. Similar to other forms of gastroenteritis, the infection will likely pass without particular treatment aside from staying hydrated.
Certain people are at risk. While most people will recover from food poisoning quickly, some people are more at risk for complications. Those people include:
- Young children
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
- People who are immune-compromised.
Avoiding the Risk
To make sure you avoid the risks that might accompany raw chicken, you must take care when handling, preparing, and cooking your chicken.
Handling and preparing. Bacteria can be transferred between foods by contact or by ingesting raw chicken or its juices. Take caution when preparing your chicken.
- When shopping, put your chicken in a disposable bag to keep the raw juices from contaminating other foods.
- Make sure your chicken is coming from safe sources.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw chicken.
- Don’t wash raw chicken because it can spread the raw juices around the kitchen and contaminate other surfaces and foods.
- Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and dishes for raw chicken. Wash those items with hot water and soap before preparing something else with them.
Cooking. Invest in a food thermometer. The internal temperature of your chicken guarantees its safety. The lowest temperature recommended by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for chicken to be safely cooked is 165°F. For an accurate reading, check the temperature at the thickest part of the chicken.