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Why is safe to eat some raw or undercooked meats like beef and fish (assuming you're careful), but not chicken? I know that there are bacteria in chicken, but are they in all chicken, or just so many that the only safe thing to do is assume they're all bad? If not, is there any way to get non-dangerous chicken (for say -- chicken sushi)?

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Besides the safety aspect ... raw poultry has a rather odd texture that most people find unappetizing (possibly it's just a psychological thing with the link between undercooked poultry and food poisoning) –  Joe Jul 17 '10 at 8:42
    
@Joe - Why not make this an answer? –  Paperjam Jul 23 '10 at 14:44
    
@paperjam : because the question was about safety. My comment was about squimishness; they might be related (we react psychologically to many things that might be dangerous), but not liking the texture isn't a food safety issue. –  Joe Jul 23 '10 at 15:03
    
@Joe - Ah, good point. –  Paperjam Jul 23 '10 at 15:37
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4 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

You can have raw chicken in restaurants in Japan - it's delicious. Depending on where you live there may be better or worse food safety standards, but there is nothing poisonous about raw chicken itself.

By the way, sushi is a dish with vinegary rice. The raw-meat dish is Sashimi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sashimi.

A picture of chicken sashimi

You will note that in this photo the chicken is actually not raw but quite rare. The exterior of the chicken flesh is actually seared and cooked through several millimeters.

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An anonymous user pointed out (in an edit I couldn't approve, as it would have been unfair to the original author) that while chicken meat itself is not poisonous, it can be contaminated with salmonella and other nasties. –  rumtscho Jan 21 at 21:01
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In this thread goblinbox makes a disturbing contribution that references a Consumer Reports article stating that 83% of US chickens are contaminated with salmonella and campylobacter.

That's a high enough percentage to scare me away.

Is raw chicken even appetizing to you? The thought of eating chicken sushi makes me queasy, but that just could be because we've been brought up with the knowledge that you don't eat raw chicken.

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A positive for bacteria and potential for infection of healthy humans is not the same. A handful of bacteria can't infect you. You need to handle meat very badly or use dead birds to reach dangerous levels. You can think of them as free vaccines. If they just left the germs alone and focused on handling the meat correctly, and keeping the birds in sanitary conditions, there wouldn't be super-bacteria to worry about in the first place. People's paranoia raises the super-germs that will kill them. –  jbcreix Jul 17 '10 at 8:16
    
(+1) The salmonella is hard to avoid in the chicken's digestive system, so contamination of the meat is not uncommon. –  papin Jul 17 '10 at 12:58
    
@jbrcreix: I suggest reading the article. There's a lot more to it than the simple one sentence summary I gave it. Consumer Reports is a very reputable source. –  hobodave Jul 17 '10 at 19:44
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@jbcreix. That's a very dangerous attitude unless you have a strong immune system. Children, sick, and elderly people, often have much stronger reactions to infection and can't risk it. Good that you can, though; I also don't worry about it and figure over time I've built up some immunity. –  Ocaasi Jul 27 '10 at 18:44
    
I said healthy humans. Risk populations are a different matter. I read that article and I have also read scientific papers on cleaning salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria off hands/kitchen material(not happening unless you are following industrial safety procedures). And also have done bacterial cultures a long time ago. There is such thing as negligible and low levels of bacteria. In a petri dish a single botulism bacterium will take over overnight. Not in your body. –  jbcreix Jul 29 '10 at 11:45
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It has more to do with the industrial food system. If it's coming out of industrial agriculture, I don't think I'd eat any meat raw. If you can find a good local producer that does its own slaughtering, cleaning and packaging you could ask them about it. Their meat might be safe to eat raw. It just depends on where it comes from.

My rule of thumb is: if I can talk to the produce, slaughter and packager then I take their advice, otherwise I assume not safe until cooked.

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Contrary to popular opinion, there's no correlation between organic/free range and lack of salmonella: ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2005/00000068/00000011/… –  Shalmanese Jul 17 '10 at 8:06
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Notice, I said local. Not organic or free range. The implication being that you can talk to a producer, visit the farm and make the judgment for yourself. While, on average, organic certified or free range chickens may not be any better than industrially produced chickens, there are still some small farms that are significantly better. And unlike the industrialized food system, you are not at the mercy of chance when making a decision based on locally purchased meat. Second, the statistics don't surprise me, given the ease of receiving "organic" or "free range" certification. –  Daniel Bingham Jul 17 '10 at 14:13
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The real issue is the water bath that the chickens go through in an industrial abattoir. Assume that 1 chicken in 1000 has enough bacteria to be dangerous, and that 500 chickens are all washed in the same bath. This would mean that 50% of all chickens have been cross contaminated. Now, whether there is sufficient bacterial transfer to cause problems is something I don't know. (All numbers in the comment were produced using a rectal number generator) –  Chris Cudmore Aug 5 '10 at 16:49
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I suspect the average consumer wouldn't have a clue how to judge a farm operation for sanitation. :) I certainly wouldn't. –  Cyclops Oct 6 '10 at 15:42
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If it's really really really fresh chicken that's been well-raised and well-handled, sure you can eat it raw. As has been mentioned, chicken sashimi is not unknown. The same applies to pork, another meat we're usually taught to cook thoroughly (historical associations there - pork was long known as a carrier of worms if not properly cooked, but this is less of an issue in modern times with good pork).

You might want to consider long and hard who your guests are before you serve up chicken sashimi at a dinner party though.

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+1 for the "consider long and hard" bit. :) –  Arafangion Oct 6 '10 at 13:12
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