Poultry - chicken, turkey, duck or goose - is popular because it is relatively low in fat, economical and can be cooked a thousand ways.  But, like all highly perishable foods, poultry requires special attention to prevent foodborne illness.  Poultry can be risky because it is often a source of pathogens (the microorgan­isms that can cause foodborne illness).  Salmonella and Campylobacter are examples of pathogenic bacteria found on raw poultry.  While thorough cooking will kill the pathogens found in raw poultry, it is important to handle raw poultry safely so that it does not cross contaminate other foods, food preparation areas or utensils.  People in high-risk groups (babies and small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and persons whose immune system is compromised) need to be especially careful not to eat undercooked poultry.


When buying raw poultry, place it in a separate plastic bag so that bacteria on the packaging or from leaking juices do not contaminate other foods in your cart or bag.  Buy poultry from a grocery store, butcher shop or farmers’ market where quality is excellent, raw poultry is properly packaged and refrigerated, and turnover is good.  Check the sell by dates and choose packages with dates that are farthest away from today.  Most raw poultry products should be used or frozen within 2 days of the sell-by date.

Raw poultry ‑

  • Be sure that the wrapping isn’t torn.
  • Choose poultry that is very cold to the touch (may even have ice crystals on it).
  • Look for the label that tells you that the poultry was inspected by the USDA. The label will also tell you the "sell-by" date and give you instructions for safe handling.
  • Put the package in a plastic bag so juices won’t drip onto other foods and contaminate them with bacteria or other microorganisms.
  • Keep raw poultry away from cooked food and from produce that will be served raw.
  • Don't buy anything that has passed the "sell-by" date.


Processed or cooked poultry ‑

      • Be sure wrapping or packaging is not broken or torn.
      • Cold foods should be cold (deli slices, chicken salad) when you buy them.
      • Hot foods (rotisserie chicken) should be very hot.
      • Check for "sell-by" dates or "use-by" dates.
      • Keep away from raw meat, poultry, fish or pro­duce, to prevent cross-contamina­tion of the cooked poultry product with pathogens from raw products.
      • Get home as soon as possible, and store your poultry products quickly.

If you buy your poultry from a custom-slaughter operation or an operation inspected by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture:

Many Connecticut consumers are now looking to buy their poultry from a local producer/ processor.  Because the USDA exempts poultry operations that produce less than 20,000 birds from USDA inspection programs, you may find that the poultry you are purchasing is either custom slaughtered ( you essentially choose and buy the live bird, it is slaughtered for you, and you bring it home); or inspected by a the Connecticut State Department of Agriculture.

This program makes it possible for Connecticut poultry producers to sell their birds to restaurants or through their own retail operations and farmers markets without having to send them to a USDA inspected slaughter facility.  The operation is not under constant inspection as a USDA plant is.  Instead, the operation is inspected periodically by a State inspector.  Therefore, it is up to the consumer to know who they are buying from.  Ask yourself the following questions: 


What should I think about when storing poultry and poultry products?

Keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible (38-40 °F in the refrigerator, 0 ° F in the freezer). When you get home, refrigerate raw poultry promptly. Never leave it on the countertop at room temperature.


Raw poultry ‑

  • Packaged fresh poultry may be refrig­erated in the original wrappings in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
  • Store raw (or thawing) poultry on the bottom shelves, on a plate to prevent drip­ping on foods below.
  • If you do not plan to use the poultry within two days of the "sell-by" date, cover the original package in freezer wrap and store it in the freezer.
  • When you need to divide a package into smaller portions for freezing, it is best to do this in a clean sink.  Once you have separated the poultry into smaller packages, it is easy to clean out the sink and surrounding counter space with hot, soapy water.
  • Wrap poultry for freezing in air-and­ moisture-proof freezing materials of plastic, heavy-duty foil or freezer paper.

-Label frozen poultry with the date frozen.

-Keep frozen poultry for no more than one year for best quality.

Cooked or processed poultry products (luncheon meats, rotisserie chickens) ‑

  • If poultry deli foods are packaged in paper, re-package in air-tight containers, plastic bags or wraps.
  • Store poultry luncheon meats, hot dogs, or cold cuts for up to five days.
  • Use pre-cooked rotisserie chickens or fried chicken within two or three days.
  • Cooked fresh poultry may be frozen in air- and moisture-proof freezing materials of plastic, heavy duty foil or freezer paper.

-Label frozen poultry with the date frozen.

-Freeze for up to six months for best quality.

  • Poultry luncheon meats, cold cuts and hot dogs may be frozen, but may have undesirable flavor and quality changes. Use within one to three months for the best quality.


When handling raw poultry, assume it is contaminated. It is important to keep it separated from other foods and to clean your hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces before and after handling raw poultry.

Raw poultry - chicken, turkey, duck and goose - may be the source of Salmonella, Campy­lobacter or other pathogens. Therefore, when handling raw poultry, it is important to prevent cross-contamination.

Prepare raw poultry separately from other foods. When finished, clean all food preparation surfaces - counters, knives, forks, cutting boards and hands - with hot, soapy water. You may want to set aside one cutting board and label it for use only with raw meat, poultry or fish. Do not allow poultry to remain at room temperature for more than two hours during preparation.

  • I was always taught to cook chicken and turkey to 180° F—now I see that 165° F is considered safe.  Why?

Until 2006, the USDA recommended that consumers cook whole poultry, legs and wings to 180° F, breasts and roasts to 170° F and stuffing to 165° F.  More recent research has suggested that it is safe to cook all poultry and poultry parts to 165° F.  Therefore, the USDA has changed its recommendation, based on the best science available, and now recommends that poultry, poultry parts and stuffings, all be cooked to the same temperature.   A temperature of 165° F safely destroys pathogens likely to be found in poultry.  Some folks may still prefer to cook their poultry to 180° F and that is fine.

  • How do I safely thaw chicken and turkey?

Thaw frozen poultry in the refrigerator, not on the countertop. It takes 24 hours to thaw a four-pound chicken in the refrigerator, and three to nine hours for cut-up parts. It will take one day for every five pounds of turkey, so you need to plan ahead.

Poultry parts may also be safely thawed in cold water. Place the poultry in a watertight plastic bag in cold water. Change the water about every 15 minutes. Always cook poultry which was thawed in cold water immedi­ately after thawing.  For quick thawing of raw or cooked poultry you can use the microwave.  Do not thaw turkeys larger than 12 pound in the microwave oven.  Thawing times will vary so follow the microwave manufacturer's instructions. Just be sure to cook the poultry immediately after defrosting in the microwave.

  • Should I wash raw chicken and turkey before cooking it?

Many cooks have been taught to wash raw chicken and turkey before preparing it.  However, new guidance discourages this practice.  When raw chicken or turkey is washed under running water, the resulting splash may spread pathogens from the raw poultry to nearby areas of the kitchen—such as counters, faucets and other kitchen surfaces.  This is a form of cross-contamination.

Cross-con­tamination happens when raw poultry or its juices, con­taminated with harmful bacteria or other pathogens, touches a cooked food, a ready-to-eat food or fresh produce. It can also happen when a utensil, cutting board, work surface or hand - used to prepare raw, contaminated poultry - is then used to handle ready-to-eat foods. For example, cross-contamination could occur if serving tongs are used to put raw chicken on a barbecue grill and are again used to remove the cooked food without washing between uses. Because the juices from raw poultry can easily be spread to other foods, the counter or utensils, you need to handle poultry in a way that minimizes the possibility of cross-contamination.

  • Use these cooking temperatures for safety:

Ground turkey, chicken, duck…cook to 165 °F

Chicken, turkey parts…cook to 165 °F

Whole roast turkey, chicken or duck…cook to 165 °F

  • How do I safely store poultry leftovers?

Once cooked, do not leave poultry at room temperature for more than two hours. When the meal in finished, cut the meat off the bone, place it into small, shallow containers or plastic storage bags, and place the container in the refriger­ator.  If leftovers are to be reheated, cover to keep the meat from drying out and to ensure that the chicken is heated all the way through. Bring gravies to a rolling boil before serving. Cooked poultry should be placed in the freezer if you do not plan to use it within two days.  Label the frozen poultry with the date and store white meat up to a year and dark meat for 6 months at 0 °F.

  • Can I make my Thanksgiving turkey a day or so ahead of time?  I do not have room for the turkey AND the side dishes in my oven…

If you want to prepare a turkey dinner ahead of time, you will need to pay special attention to all the food safety rules. The cooked bird must be deboned before being refrigerated. After cooking, let the turkey rest for 15 minutes. Carve the meat off, leav­ing the legs, thighs and wings intact if you wish. Cook the stuffing separately. The carved meat should be stored in shallow containers. The meat can be reheated in a 325 °F oven the next day for approximately 10 minutes per pound. Adding some liquid such as gravy or broth and covering the meat will help to prevent dryness. You may also reheat the meat in a microwave.

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For more information on the safe buying, storage, and preparation of poultry, go here.