It’s no secret that North Americans have birds on the brain. Turkey, for example, has made its way to the table year-round, and, for the health-conscious, chicken has replaced beef as the staple of choice. It’s no wonder: poultry is rich in protein and can be prepared to suit any palate. Yet it is also a major source of food-borne illness. The federal government is working to improve safety standards. For example, a spray for newly hatched chicks was developed that prevents salmonella from growing. Many industry experts, however, have expressed skepticism about its effectiveness. But it’s up to you to further minimize your risks.
Skinless, light-meat poultry is lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol than most red meat. Like red meat, poultry provides iron, zinc, and the vitamins B6 and B12. Turkey breast is the leanest of all meats, followed closely by chicken breast. Cornish hens are also lean. Duck and goose, which are all dark meat, have the most fat and calories.
Chicken can be lean or fatty, depending on which part you eat. The leanest part is the breast, followed by the drumstick, leg, and wing. Eating it with the skin nearly doubles the amount of fat – most of it saturated. It’s okay to cook chicken with the skin on; it adds little or no fat if you remove it before serving.
Of all cooking methods, roasting at low temperatures seems to melt away the most fat from a bird. Prick duck skin with a fork during roasting so that the fat drips into the pan.
In recipes, ground chicken and turkey are tasty substitutes for ground beef. But beware: depending on how much skin and other fat is included in the grinding, they may be just as fatty. Moreover, some “self-basting” turkeys are injected with coconut oil (full of saturated fat) or partially hydrogenated oils.
More than any other food, poultry has the potential to put harmful bacteria on your plate. Experts say that food poisoning is increasingly caused by “Campylobacter jejuni,” although salmonella remains the leading offender. For both causes, early-stage signs of infection are fever, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. The elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system may suffer serious complications. Salmonella symptoms occur within 6 to 48 hours; campylobacter, within 2 to 5 days.
Poultry is one of many products which may be irradiated by U.S. food processors. Canada, which led the way in developing irradiation technology, irradiates only spices, onions, and potatoes. Many consumers in both countries are leery of the process.