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Is It Safe To Eat Chicken Sashimi?

Raw chicken sashimi

For the average American diner, the idea of eating raw chicken—with its seemingly inherent risk of salmonella poisoning—is a nightmarish prospect. But for chef Marc Murphy, chicken sashimi is the stuff (Twitter) dreams are made of.

Today, the celebrity chef took to the social media platform to proclaim his love for chicken sashimi, raising questions with other users over whether this mythical food actually exists—and, if it does, whether it’s actually safe to eat.

Most often referred to as chicken sashimi or chicken tartare, raw chicken is served on many a menu, though you’d be hard-pressed to find it at any ol’ neighborhood establishment. By last count, the specialty is offered at only a few select spots in the country—Ippuku in Berkeley, California, is perhaps the best known. It’s more widely offered in Japan though, especially in hubs such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo.

But even there, people have been cautioned against taking a bite of undercooked chicken. In July, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare warned that food poisoning is a serious risk of eating raw chicken, and asked restaurants to revaluate their preparation practices—requesting chicken meat be cooked to a 75-degree internal temperature before it’s served—in order to make it safer to ingest.

Chicken sashimi is often prepared by boiling or searing chicken for no more than 10 seconds, “which is an insufficient treatment to kill harmful microbes such as campylobacter and salmonella … on raw poultry,” says Michael Doyle, regents professor of food microbiology at the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety.

According to the ministry, campylobacter, a bacteria often found in the intestines of the chickens, is the culprit behind raw-chicken-related food poisoning. The bacteria  is believed responsible for 60 percent of all bacterial food poisoning cases in Japan, according to the national newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

And, as Doyle says, campylobacter isn’t the only concern around the dish. Salmonella can be a problem as well. Chicken sashimi, is typically thinly sliced or cubed from the inner breast of a chicken, the part of the chicken that carries the lowest risk of salmonella contamination. However, some restaurants—especially some more daring establishments in other countries—cut chicken sashimi from thighs, liver or the outer breast, where the bacteria can be more common.

That brings us to the big question: Should you eat it? “I would be very cautious with raw chicken, even if it is lightly cooked,” warns Claire Shorenstein, M.S., R.D., and C.D.N., who adds that the first step to safely eating chicken sashimi should always be to find out the chicken’s origins and how it was raised. “You need to know where it came from,” she says, unequivocally.

Most restaurants that serve chicken sashimi work closely with small farms to ensure the chickens are raised to the highest standards, and come in as fresh as possible, as Ippuku founder Christian Geiderman told Newsweek in 2013. In other words, it’s really not something you can ensure for yourself at home as a sashimi aficionado.

At a restaurant, if it’s not made clear on the menu, don’t hesitate to ask your server from where the chicken was sourced and what precautions have been taken to keep any bacteria at bay, Shorenstein says. “Raw chicken is not commonly seen on any standard menus,” she says, so servers are probably used to fielding these queries.

And one last warning: Your chicken sashimi-salmonella risk increases if you are pregnant, very young or old, or immune-compromised. Anyone in these conditions should avoid raw chicken all together, Shorenstein says. So, consider chicken sashimi an “eat at your own risk” kind of dish.

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