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Are You Chicken to Eat Raw Meat?

Are You Chicken to Eat Raw Meat?

Allison Ford | Divine Caroline

I was on vacation recently when a waiter asked a question that took me by surprise. When I requested red snapper, he said, “How would you like that cooked?” I would have expected that question for beef or tuna, but snapper? I thought there were only two possibilities—cooked or raw.

In fact, I was under the impression that almost every meat came in one of these two preparations. Seafood, chicken, pork—they’re either done, or they’re not, right? Do people actually order medium-rare chicken breasts? I am a meat eater who regularly enjoys rare steaks, tuna tartare, and raw oysters, but the idea of a raw pork chop makes my stomach turn. Why do we eat certain meats raw, and flinch at the thought of a rare patch in others?

Technically, we could eat just about anything raw. There are entire diets and lifestyle systems devoted to eating only raw food—including meat. Enthusiasts claim that raw food is more nutritious, since the essential vitamins haven’t been cooked out, and that it’s closer to the ancestral diet that our digestive system evolved to handle. There’s nothing inherently unsafe about raw meat, and although Western palates consider it unsavory, some Asian cuisines feature raw chicken and pork. The thing that makes some raw meats dangerous is the likelihood of contamination by bacteria or pathogens. Some parasites, bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing agents thrive in animals that we use as food. We don’t cook meat to make it inherently more palatable or healthy; we cook in order to kill any germs that may be lingering.

Cooked to Inspection

Chicken is a dangerous meat to eat raw, because it’s more likely than other meats to carry pathogens. Consumer Reports tested conventional broiler chickens, and found that about 83 percent harbored campylobacter or salmonella, the two main bacteria affecting poultry. Because factory-farmed chickens live in close quarters and live in close vicinity to other birds’ droppings, they are more likely to contract easy-to-spread salmonella, but organic or cage-free birds are susceptible as well. Be careful even when handling raw chicken, since dirty hands or bad food safety practices can spread contaminants. To ensure that bacteria have been killed, all poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F.