Chicken is one of the most widely consumed proteins in the world. It’s a healthy option for lean protein because it has a lower fat and higher protein ratio than other meats.
It’s really important to ensure that chicken is cooked properly to a safe temperature. This is because some microorganisms that have the potential to make you ill are often found on chicken. Cooking the chicken until it has an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) will kill these microorganisms.
What pathogens are found on raw chicken?
According to Consumer Reports, up to two-thirds of chickens bought in the United States could contain either Salmonella, Campylobacter, or both.
Salmonella bacteria live in the gut of many farm animals, especially chicken. It can cause an infection of the intestinal tract in humans. This can lead to:
Chicken meat can become infected with Campylobacter when it comes into contact with animal feces. The most common symptom of Campylobacter infection is bloody diarrhea. It can also lead to more serious complications in some cases.
Salmonella and Campylobacter are the most common pathogens found on raw chicken. Some other pathogens include:
Illness after consuming raw chicken
The most common symptoms that occur after eating raw chicken that contains one or more of these pathogens are:
- abdominal cramps
- muscle pain
With Salmonella, the diarrhea is usually very liquid. With Campylobacter, it’s often bloody. Symptoms usually occur within one to two days after consuming Salmonella and within 2 to 10 days after consuming Campylobacter. Symptoms usually go away after around four days. In severe cases of a Campylobacter infection, antibiotics may be needed.
When bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can spread to other parts of the body. This is called bacteremia. It can come in many different forms, depending on which area of the body becomes infected.
People with weak immune systems are at a greater risk of developing bacteremia. People who take medication to decrease stomach acid are also at greater risk. This is because stomach acid helps guard against infections of the intestine.
One strain of Salmonella bacteria called Salmonella typhi causes typhoid fever. Salmonella typhi is only carried by humans, but chicken can be infected by human handlers. The symptoms of typhoid fever include:
- a very high fever of up to 104°F (40°C)
- a rose-colored rash
- stomach pain
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare complication of Campylobacter infection. It occurs when the antibodies that we build up to fight Campylobacter attack our nerve cells. Approximately 1 in 1,000 reported cases of Campylobacter infection result in GBS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
GBS manifests as a temporary paralysis that begins in the feet and moves upward. In severe cases, GBS can cause almost complete paralysis. People with it may eventually require a breathing machine. Paralysis may set in several weeks after the diarrheal infection. Most people do recover from the disorder, though some weakness may remain. Read about the experiences of people who have had GBS.
Reactive arthritis can also be caused by Campylobacter infection. Symptoms include
inflammation of the:
- urinary system
- reproductive organs
The onset of symptoms usually begins around 18 days after infection.
The symptoms of foodborne illness usually resolve on their own. If you’re feeling well again after a few hours, then there’s no need to seek further treatment. It’s recommended that you keep well-hydrated for the entire period of time you have diarrhea. This is to ensure that you replace the fluids you’re losing and don’t become dehydrated.
If symptoms persist for more than a few days, you may want to consult your doctor. Antibiotics may be prescribed in order to shorten the course of the illness. Antidiarrheal medication may also help lessen the symptoms.
Both typhoid fever and bacteremia are treated with antibiotics. They’ll usually resolve within 7 to 14 days. Hospitalization may be required in severe cases.
There’s no cure for GBS. Treatment is aimed at reducing complications, speeding up recovery, and treating complications.
How to handle chicken safely
There are many steps you can take to prevent infection caused by eating raw chicken:
- Wrap packaged raw chicken in an additional plastic bag before refrigerating. This prevents the juices from contaminating other items.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after preparing raw chicken.
- Use a designated board for cutting raw chicken.
- Wash utensils, dishes, cutting boards and countertops thoroughly with soap and hot water after preparing raw chicken.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
- Follow package instructions closely when cooking preprepared chicken.
- When eating out, if you suspect the chicken you ordered isn’t properly cooked, send it back. Experts advise that you avoid trendy raw chicken dishes.
- Move leftover chicken to the refrigerator or freezer within one hour.
Though a large proportion of chicken purchased in stores across America seems to carry potentially harmful pathogens, you can avoid illness if you follow the proper safety measures.
If you begin to feel ill following chicken consumption, rest and drink plenty of fluids. If your symptoms are severe or continue after a few days, seek advice from your doctor.