Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2003 / 4 Shevat, 5763

Eating smart: Handle your poultry with care -- and the less, the better

By Sheldon Margen and Dale A. Ogar |

When you shop for chicken in the supermarket, how do you decide which is the most nutritious? And how do you keep it from becoming a colony for bacteria once you get it home?

In terms of nutrition, let's look at some comparative fat and calorie levels of 3.5 ounces of chicken (cooked without added fat).


Breast with skin: 197 calories, 8 grams fat

Breast without skin: 165 calories, 4 grams fat

Leg with skin: 232 calories, 13 grams fat

Leg without skin: 191 calories, 8 grams fat


Dark meat without skin: 178 calories, 9 grams fat

Light meat without skin: 153 calories, 4 grams fat


Dark meat without skin: 258 calories, 15 grams fat

Light meat without skin: 213 calories, 8 grams fat

Now, keep in mind that chicken is extremely perishable. For safety's sake, you should assume that all chicken is potentially contaminated with salmonella, and handle it accordingly.

Store your chicken in the coldest part of the refrigerator as soon as you get it home. If you're not going right home from the market, take a cooler and some ice with you in the back of the car.

The less you handle chicken, the better. Keep it in the store packaging, and don't hesitate to store the package in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. You can also put it inside a larger food-storage bag. Be sure that the juices do not leak out onto other foods. You can keep fresh, raw chicken in the refrigerator for two to three days. Once cooked, it will keep for another three to four days.

If you buy a whole chicken, remove the giblets, which will spoil before the meat will. Then rinse the bird, dry it off with a paper towel, and re-wrap it loosely in heavy plastic, aluminum foil or butcher paper. Discard the giblets or store them in a separate container. In any event, use them within one day of purchase. Before you cook the chicken, wash it again in cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels.

If you're not planning to cook your chicken for several days, freeze it immediately. Remove it from the wrapping, wash and dry it, then wrap it again very tightly to make sure no air can get inside. If you buy a whole bird, cut it up first as it will freeze more evenly -- and defrost quickly -- later on. Frozen chicken is good for up to a year.

Never, ever thaw a frozen chicken on the counter top. Put it on a plate in the refrigerator (to catch the drippings), and count on three to four hours of thawing time per pound. Again, cut pieces will thaw more quickly. If you plan to cook the chicken right away, you can thaw it in the microwave.

You should probably cut away any big pieces of fat on the chicken before you cook it. But keep in mind that cooking with all the skin removed only tends to make the meat drier, not necessarily leaner. Removing the skin after cooking takes away much of the fat but allows the meat to stay moist and tender.

During preparation time, keep your raw poultry away from all other foods, especially anything that will be served uncooked, like salad greens or fruit. If you have handled uncooked chicken, be sure to wash your hands, your knives, your cutting boards and anything else that has come in contact with the bird. Use hot soapy water, and anything else you may have touched while you were handling the chicken.

If you are marinating chicken, be sure to keep it in the refrigerator. Never marinate poultry at room temperature. In about three hours, chicken left at room temperature can spoil and anybody who eats it is likely to be sick as a dog

Do not use the leftover marinade as a sauce unless you bring it to a boil for several minutes. If you use the sauce to baste the chicken, make sure that there is plenty of cooking time left so that the marinade gets thoroughly heated. An even better idea is to make a separate batch of marinade to use as a basting sauce or gravy.

According to the experts at the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, 85 percent of all cases of food poisoning could be avoided if people just handled food properly. In fact, the department offers a toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline for advice on food safety. The number is 1-800-535-4555. If you call Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST, you can talk to an expert who can give you specific advice. At other times, general information is available in several different categories. The department also has a helpful Web site at

Sheldon Margen, M.D., is a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the University of California at Berkeley "Wellness Letter.'' They are the authors of "The Simply Healthy Lowfat Cookbook,'' "The Wellness Lowfat Cookbook'' and "The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition." Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, TMS