Is It Ok to Eat Slightly Undercooked Chicken Breast?
Most of us feel adventurous when we eat exotic meals, and we feel a certain frisson of excitement. “Oh, look at me, aren’t I daring, living life on the edge like this?” we say (maybe to ourselves because no one wants to look like a puffed up, self-obsessed doofus even if that is what we really are).
When I was about eight or nine, my parents took me to visit family and friends in Lebanon, and at a picnic just outside Beirut, I ended up eating raw horse meat.
As I recall, it tasted okay, nothing special, but I was as sick as a dog afterward, and I have never had a yearning to repeat the experience, although I do have a yen for sashimi.
I don’t know why I was unwell after eating that raw horsemeat, nor why I can eat sashimi without ill effect, and I still remain leery of other uncooked or undercooked foods to this day, but what about undercooked chicken breast?
Is It Okay to Eat Slightly Undercooked Chicken Breast?
It is not okay to eat undercooked chicken breast or undercooked chicken in general. Chickens are excellent pathways for pathogens injurious to humans. Some bacteria, like Campylobacter and Salmonella, can live in chickens without causing the animals any problems. However, once inside a human, these bacteria can cause tremendous damage, including death.
There’s A Reason We Cook Food!
Heat can deconstruct many types of toxins in food, rendering them harmless. Heat also destroys various bugs, breaking open their cell walls and thus obliterating them, making the meal safe to eat.
In short, we cook food because, over the centuries, bitter experience has taught us that raw food can make us sick in varying degrees of seriousness, ranging from uncomfortable to stone cold dead, and many of us prefer to avoid the “dead” thing while we can.
Yet, being human and thus obstinate contrarians by nature, we happily chow down on rare steaks (I don’t, actually, thank you very much; I still fear bovine spongivorous encephalopathy, or BSE, better known as mad cow disease).
We shovel mouthfuls from offerings of poke bowls, sashimi, sushi, tartar, or beef carpaccio with careless abandon, all the while aware, in the back of our minds, that we’re taking something of a risk by eating the raw food. Yet, we don’t care until it comes to chicken.
When we look at raw or undercooked chicken, most adults draw up short and take a minute to look at the food with deep suspicion. Something, I know not what, instinctively tells us that this type of raw food is a big no-no.
Kids don’t seem to have this inbuilt warning system, but somewhere north of the teen years, an ancient knowledge seems to arise in man’s breast, and we just know not to mess with raw or undercooked chicken. But is this fear well-founded?
What Can Go Wrong If You Lose Your Bet with Undercooked Chicken
If you gamble and stuff your face with undercooked chicken, you might be as right as rain afterward. There is no hard and fast rule that says eating undercooked chicken will be bad for you in all circumstances; you might get away with it unscathed.
On the other hand, if you have gambled badly, you might end up with food poisoning. Symptoms and effects could be anything from mild stomach ache (okay, no probs) to nausea (less okay, but still, okay), to diarrhea (not so okay, but okay), to coma, hospitalization, and death (definitely not okay, not okay at all).
The symptoms outlined above result from various bacteria with names that are at once exciting and terrifying, such as E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and listeria. It must be quite glamorous to be able to say, “I survived the great salmonella outbreak of 20-whatever,” or, “Yeah, I was in Emergency with campylobacter, but I beat the rap.”
The trouble is, with the more serious bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, there’s no guarantee that you or I or anyone will “beat the rap.” People do die of these infections.
Escherichia coli, a.k.a. E. Coli
Not all E. coli strains are harmful. However, those that are can be pretty testy, causing intense stomach ache, cramping, and eventually, death. Illness-causing E. coli causes problems for the human body by releasing toxins that destroy our red blood cells. As you can imagine, the body reacts poorly to this kind of attention, and eventually, we get kidney failure.
Fortunately, cooking food properly kills E. coli, preventing the bugs from entering the human body, where they are free to wreak havoc.
This bacteria causes a disease called campylobacteriosis, quite a mouthful (almost as much as the mouthful of undercooked chicken you stuffed in your maw to cause you this disease, ha-ha). Luckily, although super uncomfy while in its throes, campylobacteriosis shouldn’t be fatal, even when serious.
For a few days, you’ll suffer diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, vomiting, and fever, but eventually, you should get better and presumably wiser from the experience.
Strangely enough, this bacteria lives quite happily in the guts of chickens, causing the host animal zero distress. It’s only when it gets into human guts that it seems to become fractious and problematic.
Unlike campylobacteriosis, salmonella can live a peaceful and undisturbing life in our gut. As long as the bug doesn’t get into our bloodstream, salmonella doesn’t bother us, and we don’t bother it.
However, once in our bloodstream, the bacterium goes on a rampage, in particular, attacking our bones and joints. On rare occasions, death can occur. (The CDC reckons there are around 400 deaths a year from this agent, so it’s not exactly a population thinner.)
This is the granddaddy of them all, the bacterium you really don’t want to mess with. About 200 in every 1,000 cases of listeria results in death in the US.
This nasty little bug causes meningitis and encephalopathy, an inflammation of the brain’s lining. The disease can attack the fetus in pregnant women, causing untold damage and even spontaneous abortion.
Listeriosis is essentially an attack on the host’s nervous system and is a strange addition to the list of undercooked chicken hazards because we can also become infected by eating unwashed fruits and vegetables and even consuming contaminated dairy products.
Frequently Asked Questions to Is It Ok to Eat Slightly Undercooked Chicken Breast?
What Dishes Serve Undercooked Chicken Breast?
Sensibly, as far as I know, no dish intentionally serves undercooked chicken breast or undercooked chicken anything. Chicken is one food that you want to be served thoroughly cooked.
What is the Best Way to Cook Chicken to Ensure it is Thoroughly Cooked?
Boiling or stewing chicken is an excellent way to ensure that chicken is well cooked. Deep frying chicken is also great, but over-frying can lead to dry chicken, enticing the chef into not cooking the chicken for long enough. Roast chicken or rotisserie also suffer from a tendency to be well-cooked on the outside but undercooked on the inside.
Afterword: Is It Okay to Eat Slightly Undercooked Chicken Breast?
It is absolutely, totally, completely, utterly, and entirely not okay to eat undercooked chicken, breast, or otherwise, slightly or totally undercooked.