What if you eat raw chicken: What will happen?

Raw chicken has harmful bacteria to it. Eating raw chicken can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting, even in small amounts.

If a person does not properly handle or cook chicken it may cause unpleasant diseases.

The FDA recommends that people cook all the poultry until it has an internal temperature of at least 165°F. This high temperature destroys any harmful bacteria.

In this article we look at what happens when a person eats raw or undercooked chicken, how to treat any potential diseases and how to safely handle raw chicken.

Risks

Eating raw chicken may cause food poisoning.
Eating raw chicken may cause food poisoning.

Raw poultry meat can contain several different types of bacteria, including:

  • Campylobacter
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens

Even consuming the juices from raw chicken can result in food poisoning.

Campylobacter

Campylobacter bacteria cause a Campylobacter infection, or campylobacteriosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that Campylobacter infections affect up to 1.5 million people in the United States every year.

Symptoms include:

  • diarrhea, which may be bloody and result in dehydration
  • fever
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Such symptoms usually begin 2–5 days after consuming infected meat, and last for up to 1 week, according to the CDC.

In 2015, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System found that there were Campylobacter bacteria in 24 percent of store-bought chicken meat.

These harmful bacteria, including fruit and lettuce, can also spread to foods that people typically eat raw. This transmission can occur when people use the same chopping board and utensils they used to make the chicken to prepare other foods.

Salmonella

Salmonella bacteria cause salmonellosis.

Salmonella bacteria are responsible for 1.35 million infections in the U.S. each year, along with 26,500 hospitalisations, according to the CDC.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea, which can be bloody
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headaches

The CDC note that it can take between 6 hours and 6 days for a person to start experiencing the symptoms, which will typically last 4–7 days.

Clostridium perfringens

Usually this infection occurs when a person is cooking meat and keeping it warm for a long time before eating it. The bacteria also show up on raw chicken, though.

Symptoms usually include vomiting and cramps in the abdomen. People generally don’t suffer fever or vomiting.

Infection with Clostridium perfringens most commonly causes symptoms within 8–12 hours, and lasts less than 24 hours.

Complications

Those who get a foodborne illness usually recover and do not suffer from any long-term health issues. Nevertheless, for some those, foodborne disease can lead to more serious complications, and even hospitalization.

Possible complications include:

  • severe dehydration
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a gastrointestinal disorder that can cause abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements
  • reactive arthritis, which is a type of infectious arthritis
  • septicemia, which occurs when the body has an extreme reaction to an infection in the body
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), which is a rare neurological disorder that causes the immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system

A person with GBS may experience numbness, muscle weakness, pain, and balance and coordination problems.

The CDC reports that about 40 percent of GBS infections are caused by Campylobacter infection.

What to do after ingesting it

If a person thinks that they have eaten raw or undercooked chicken, they should wait and see whether symptoms of foodborne illness develop.

Attempting to induce vomiting is not advised, because this can cause unnecessary harm to the stomach.

If a person develops food poisoning they should make sure that they stay hydrated, according to Poison Control. If the person is unable to hold down fluids they should seek medical assistance.

Treatment

If a person has bloody diarrhea they should see a doctor.

Those at higher risk may need antibiotic treatment. Those who may be at greater risk of serious illness when they experience poisoning with food include:

  • people over the age of 65 years
  • pregnant women
  • infants and children under the age of 5 years
  • those with a weakened immune system

Some signs of illness usually resolve after eating raw chicken without the need for medical treatment.

People should however make sure they drink plenty of fluids, particularly if they have vomiting or diarrhea. A person can take drinks to replace fluids and electrolytes:

  • water
  • diluted fruit juice
  • sports drinks
  • clear broths
  • oral rehydration solutions

A individual may be using over- the-counter drugs to relieve symptoms. These include loperamide (Imodium), which can help relieve diarrhea, and subsalicylate bismuth (Pepto-Bismol) which can reduce diarrhea and nausea.

Someone suffering from a foodborne disease should stay home and enjoy a lot of rest.

When to see a doctor

If a person can not maintain fluids, he or she should seek medical help. If they are pregnant, over 65 years of age, or have a weakened immune system they should also seek help. Also parents or carers will take children under 5 years to see a doctor.

Otherwise it might be worth seeing a doctor if symptoms last more than a few days.

Other symptoms a person should be seeking medical help for are:

  • bloody stools
  • high fever over 102°F
  • vomiting so frequently that it is not possible to replace fluids
  • little or no urination
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea lasting more than 3 days

How to tell if chicken is cooked properly

The best way to prevent meat from having a foodborne illness is to cook it well enough to kill any harmful bacteria.

Chicken meat changes color from pink to white during cooking, and changes in texture too. People should avoid consuming pink meat from chicken, as it may be undercooked and may contain bacteria.

A person may also use a meat thermometer clean to test the meat’s internal temperature. Cooking raw chicken is necessary until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

A individual should pierce the thickest part of the leg— which is between the drumstick and the thigh— while cooking a whole chicken to test the meat temperature, making sure that they do not cause the meat thermometer to touch the bone, fat or gristles.

They will check that the meat is white too. A properly cooked chicken’s juices will be clear, and not murky.

How to handle raw chicken

The best way to avoid foodborne infection is to cook chicken thoroughly and to be careful about food preparation.

It is not only eating raw chicken that can cause illness but also handling and preparation improper.

People could avoid cross-contamination by:

  • storing raw meat on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator and wrapping it in a plastic bag to prevent juices escaping
  • washing the hands thoroughly before and after handling raw chicken
  • refraining from washing chicken before preparing it, to avoid spraying surfaces with bacteria
  • cleaning all utensils, chopping boards, and work surfaces thoroughly after preparing raw chicken
  • using a designated chopping board for raw chicken
  • using a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the chicken is at least 165°F
  • avoiding placing cooked food or fresh produce on any uncleaned surface that has held raw chicken
  • refrigerating leftover chicken within 2 hours, once it has cooled
  • sending meat back in a restaurant if it appears undercooked

According to the FDA, a person’s refrigerator should be at or below 40°F (4°C), and the freezer should be at 0°F (-18°C).

Summary

Eating chicken raw or uncooked may be unhealthy.

If they are at higher risk of developing complications or are unable to maintain fluids, a person should seek medical help.

Chicken is a healthy food to eat and to enjoy with proper handling and cooking.

If symptoms persist for more than a few days, someone with a foodborne illness should get plenty of rest, drink fluids frequently, and seek medical help.

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