Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky

Whether you are growing Cornish cross (commercial-type chickens) or ending a flock of spent hens (stewing chickens), it is important to take care in the processing methods used. It is important that fecal material NOT come in contact with the skin or meat of the chicken. The intestines of poultry are full of microbes – some good, some bad. The bad bacteria can include foodborne-pathogens that can make people sick, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria.

The publication Processing Chickens (University of Kentucky) gives you an overview of processing poultry, with specific reference to chickens. The procedure is basically the same for other species of poultry except for the larger birds of ostrich, emu, and rhea, as well as waterfowl such as ducks and geese.

One of the first steps is to prevent the birds from access feed prior to slaughter. This will allow the digestive tract to be cleared of its contents, reducing the likelihood of contamination of the carcass during evisceration (removal of the abdominal contents). The length of time required for feed withdrawal depends on many factors, including the type and age of the birds, the type of feed given, and the feeding schedule. It can be anywhere from eight to twelve hours. It needs to be long enough to empty the digestive tract but not so long that the digestive tract becomes weak and is easily broken during evisceration.

Make sure that the work area is kept clean, especially between birds. And that the processed birds are cooled as soon as possible after processing. The core temperature of the carcass should be reduced to below 45°F quickly. Preferably within four hours after evisceration.

Through the entire harvesting, slaughter, and processing procedures for poultry, it is important to wash your hands frequently, and to keep them away from your eyes, nose, and mouth at all times.

As with purchased chicken, it is best to NOT wash the chicken in the kitchen sink prior to starting food preparation activities. This can spread any bacteria on the chicken throughout the kitchen area. See the article “Why you should never wash raw chicken.”

It is important to cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F, which will kill any bacteria present.