This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by Pam Schmutz, HGIC Food Safety Specialist and Elizabeth Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. Revised by Pam Schmutz, HGIC Food Safety Specialist and Julie Northcutt, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 10/99. Revised 09/08.)
Fresh poultry — chicken, turkey, duck and goose — is defined by the USDA as poultry that has never been below 26 °F. When held at temperatures ranging from 26 to 40 °F, there is minimal ice crystal formation and poultry meat is still soft and pliable. There should be no detectable odor. The surface should not be slick nor have a shiny appearance, and should not have color defects (flesh discoloration or bruises larger than the size of a dime).
Dating of Poultry Products: Product dating is not required by federal regulations. However, many stores and processors may voluntarily date packages of poultry or poultry products. If a calendar date is shown, there must be a phrase explaining the meaning of the date. Consumers should use or freeze poultry products within one or two days of purchase. If the manufacturer has determined a “use-by” date, observe it for peak quality and freshness. It ’s always best to buy a product before its date expires. If a date expires after the poultry is frozen, the food can still be used. However, quality begins to deteriorate after one year of frozen storage for whole poultry and nine months of frozen storage for poultry parts.
Product Inspection & Grading: All poultry found in retail stores is either USDA-inspected for wholesomeness and safety, or inspected by state systems using standards equal to the federal government. Prior to entering the processing plant, live birds are inspected for signs of disease. Diseased birds are immediately condemned and do not enter the processing plant. In the plant, each animal and its internal organs are again inspected for signs of disease. The “Passed and Inspected by USDA” seal ensures that the poultry is wholesome and free from disease.
Inspection is mandatory, but grading for quality is voluntary. Poultry are graded according to USDA regulations and standards for meatiness, appearance and freedom from defects. Grade A chickens, the best grade, have plump, meaty bodies and clean skin, free of bruises, broken bones, feathers, cuts and discoloration.
Prestuffed Poultry: Buying retail-stuffed whole poultry is not recommended because of the highly perishable nature of a previously stuffed item. Some USDA-inspected frozen stuffed poultry MUST be cooked from the frozen state to ensure a safely cooked product.
Many frozen entrées containing stuffed boneless poultry products may appear to be pre-cooked or browned, but they are NOT ready-to-eat and must be fully cooked by the consumer. If the label states “Cook and Serve,” “Ready to Cook,” or “Oven Ready” this indicates that the product is raw and must be fully cooked by the consumer. The safest way to cook these products is in a conventional oven. If a microwave oven is used, these poultry products should be covered to allow steam to build, and then allowed to stand for the recommended time to ensure that there are no “cold spots”. Check the internal temperature in several places to make sure the product has been cooked throughout to at least 165 °F
Refrigeration: Packaged fresh poultry may be refrigerated in its original wrapping in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to two days. Cooked, cut-up poultry is at its best when refrigerated no longer than two days; cooked, whole poultry (without stuffing) may be stored for three days.
Freezing: Freeze fresh poultry if you do not plan to cook it within two days after purchase. Avoid freezer burn by using heavy-duty foil, or moisture-and vapor-proof freezer bags or plastic wraps that keep out oxygen. Be sure to press the air out of the package before freezing. Wrap chicken parts separately and label for ease in selecting just the right number of parts to thaw for a single meal. Poultry may also be frozen in its original wrap if it is first overwrapped in freezer-appropriate packaging to prevent quality loss. Cooked parts may be frozen in the same way as fresh, unless made with a sauce or gravy. In that case, pack the chicken in a rigid freezer container with a tight-fitting lid.
Cleanliness: Always wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water before preparing foods and after handling raw poultry. Don’t let raw poultry or juices touch ready-to-eat foods either in the refrigerator or during preparation. Don’t put cooked foods on the same plate that previously held raw poultry. Always wash utensils that have touched raw poultry with hot, soapy water before using them for the cooked poultry. Wash counters, cutting boards and other surfaces raw poultry have touched. Sanitize these surfaces with a solution of a teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water before using for other foods.
Thawing: Thaw uncooked poultry in the refrigerator or in cold water. NEVER thaw poultry at room temperature. To thaw poultry in cold water, leave the poultry in its original wrapping or place it in a watertight plastic bag. Change the water every 30 minutes. Be sure to clean and sanitize the sink, bowl or dish used to thaw poultry.
For quick thawing of uncooked or cooked poultry, use the microwave. Thawing time will vary according to whether you’re thawing whole poultry or parts, and the number of parts frozen together. Use the DEFROST or MEDIUM-LOW setting, according to the manufacturer’s directions. Turn poultry and separate parts as they thaw; taking care the meat does not begin to cook. Repeat as needed. Cook poultry immediately after thawing in the microwave oven. See Table 2 for defrosting times.
Marinating: Marinate poultry in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. Use leftover marinade as a sauce only if first brought to a rolling boil for one minute.
Importance of Kitchen Thermometers: One of the critical factors for minimizing bacteria in food is controlling temperature. Most pathogenic microorganisms grow very slowly at low temperatures, multiply rapidly in mid-range temperatures and are killed at high temperatures. For safety, foods must be cooked thoroughly. It is essential to use a thermometer when cooking meat and poultry to prevent undercooking and foodborne illness.
Using a thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine the “doneness” of most foods. To be safe, a product must be cooked to an internal temperature high enough to destroy any harmful bacteria that may have been in the food. Color and texture changes in meat and poultry cannot be relied on to determine that foods have been safely cooked to destroy all bacteria.
All poultry and all stuffing, whether cooked alone or in the bird, must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 °F. For reasons of personal taste or texture preferences, consumers may choose to cook poultry to higher temperatures.
When cooking whole turkey, the thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone. For chicken, and other smaller poultry, insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. If stuffed, the center of the stuffing should be checked after the thigh or breast reaches 165 °F. If cooking poultry parts, insert the thermometer into the thickest area, avoiding the bone. The thermometer may be inserted sideways if necessary. When the food being cooked is irregularly shaped, the temperature should be checked in several places. Estimated cooking times for chicken, duck, goose and turkey are described in Table 1.
Sometimes consumers will notice a pink color in fully-cooked poultry. Commercial marinades may have a small amount of nitrites or nitrates (the same ingredients used to cure meats) which gives poultry a pink color even when it is fully cooked.
Ground Chicken or Turkey: Ground meats must be cooked thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria. Unlike whole muscle meat, whose interior meat is sterile, the grinding process exposes the interior meat in ground poultry to bacteria, which may be on the surface, in the air, on equipment or on people’s hands. To kill bacteria, food safety experts have one major rule of thumb: Cook ground poultry to at least 165 °F. This step, while very simple, offers the best protection that consumers can have for serving ground poultry products safely.
Wash hands with soap and water before serving or eating food.
Always use clean utensils and storage containers for safe storage.
Always use a thermometer to check proper internal temperatures to make sure poultry is thoroughly cooked. All poultry should be cooked to a minimum safe internal temperature of at least 165 °F. For reasons of personal taste or texture preferences, consumers may choose to cook poultry to higher temperatures. Cooking times listed in the table below are only estimates.
|Type of Poultry||Parts||Weight||Roasting Unstuffed||Roasting Stuffed||Grilling/Smoking*||Microwave|
|*If smoked, use indirect heat and a drip pan rather than direct heat when grilled. DO NOT STUFF.
**Prick skin of whole duck or goose before roasting or smoking so fat can render.
|Chicken:||350 °F||350 °F||Medium-High|
|Whole Roasting Hen||5-7 lbs.||2-2¼ hrs||2½-2¾ hrs||18-25 min/lb (smoked)*||9-10 min/lb|
|Whole Broiler Fryers||3-4 lbs||1¼-1½ hrs||1¾-2 hrs||60-75 min (smoked)*||9-10 min/lb|
|Breast Halves with Bone||6-8 oz||30-40 min||10-15 min/side||8-9 min/lb|
|Boneless Breast Halves||4 oz||20-30 min||6-8 min/side||6-8 min/lb|
|Legs or Thighs||4-8 oz||40-50 min||10-15 min/side||8-9 min/lb|
|Drumsticks||4 oz||35-45 min||8-12 min/side||8-9 min/lb|
|Wings or Wingettes||2-3 oz||30-40 min||8-12 min/side||8-9 min/lb|
|Turkey:||325 F°||325 °F||Medium-High|
|Whole Turkey||12-14 lbs||3-3¾ hrs||3½-4 hrs||3-4 hours (smoked)*||14 lb. turkey maximum. 9-10 min/lb. Do not stuff.|
|14- 18lbs||3¾-4¼ hrs||4-4 ½ hrs||not recommended|
|18-20lbs||4¼-4½ hrs||4¼- 4¾ hrs||not recommended|
|20-24 lbs||4½ -5 hrs||4¾-5¼ hrs||not recommended|
|Whole Breast||4-8 lbs||1½ -3¼ hrs||8 lbs: 3-3½ hrs||1-2 hours||10-15 min/lb
(H) first ⅓ time
(M) last ⅔ time
|Half Breast||2-3 lbs||50-60 min||(M) 11-15 min/lb|
|Drumsticks||¾-1 lb each||2–2¼ hrs||1½-2 hours (smoked)*||(MH) 13-16 min/lb|
|Thighs||¾-1 lb each||1¾-2 hrs||1½-2 hours (smoked)*|
|Wings or Wingettes||6-8 oz each||1¾-2¼ hrs||50-60 min|
|Duck and Goose**||Whole Duckling – Do not stuff.||4-6 lbs||30-35 min/lb at 350 °F||2½ hrs (smoked)*||See below.|
|Duckling Breast, boneless||Brown skin-side down in a skillet over medium heat. Then cook in a 425 °F oven 12 minutes.||Grill skin side down 6 minutes; turn and grill 7 to 8 minutes. Or smoke 1 to 2 hours*||See below.|
|Duckling legs and thighs||Roast 1¼ to 1½ hours at 325 °F.||Grill legs/ thighs 30 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Or smoke 1½ to 2 hours.*||See below.|
|Whole Young Goose||8-12 lbs||2½ -3 hrs at 350 °F unstuffed. Add 15 to 30 minutes for stuffed.||2½ to 3 hrs (smoked)* Do not grill.||See below.|
|Young goose, cut up||2 hours||35-40 min (grilled). 2 hours smoked*||See below.|
Microwaving Directions for Duck or Goose: Prick skin of whole duck or goose and place on rack in an oven cooking bag or covered dish. Microwave on high 6 to 7 minutes per pound. Crisp in a 500 °F conventional oven 10 to 20 minutes. To microwave parts, arrange so thick parts are toward the outside of dish and thin or bony parts are in the center. Allow 10 minutes standing time after cooking for bone-in goose or duck; 5 minutes for boneless breast. Always cook poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
|Product||Parts||Refrigerator Storage (40°F)||Freezer Storage (0°F)||Refrigerator Defrost||Cold Water Defrost||Microwave Defrost|
|Fresh Chicken:||Whole||1-2 days||9-12 months||24 hrs||2-3 hrs||Check manufacturer’s instructions for size of chicken. Cook immediately|
|Pieces||1-2 days||6-9 months||3-9 hrs||1 hr/lb|
|Giblets||1-2 days||3-4 months||3-9 hrs||1 hr/lb|
|Ground||1-2 days||3-4 months||24 hrs||1½-2 hrs/lb|
|Cooked Chicken:||Whole/Pieces||2-3 days||4-6 months||Use Defrost mode. Cook immediately.|
|Giblets/Ground||1-2 days||2-3 months|
|Fresh Turkey:||Whole||1-2 days||12 months||24 hrs/5 lbs||30 min/lb Change water every half hour.||Check manufacturer’s instructions for the size of turkey.|
|Pieces||1-2 days||9 month||3-9 hrs|
|Giblets||1-2 days||3-4 months||3-9 hrs|
|Ground||1-2 days||3-4 months||1 day|
|Cooked Turkey:||Whole||2-3 days||N/A||Use Defrost mode. Cook immediately.|
|Pieces||2-3 days||4-6 months|
|Giblets/Ground||1-2 days||2-3 months|
|Fresh Duck||Whole||1-2 days||6 months||1-2 days||2-3 hrs||Check instructions according to size.|
|Pieces/Giblets||1-2 days||6 months||1 day||1-2 hrs|
|Goose:||Whole||1-2 days||6 months||1-2 days||4-6 hrs|
|Pieces/Giblets||1-2 days||6 months||1 day||1-2 hrs|
|Cooked Duck:||Whole/Pieces||2-3 days||2-3 months||Use Defrost mode. Cook immediately.|
|Cooked Goose:||Whole/Pieces||2-3 days||2-3 months||Use Defrost mode. Cook immediately.|
This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.