You can order a medium-rare steak at a restaurant, enjoy ceviche on the beach, try a bite of beef carpaccio or tartar, and eat sushi, sashimi, and poke bowls, galore. But raw chicken? That is always a hard, haaard pass. You may instinctively know this, but what comes after is a bit of a mystery. It's fair to question, What happens if you eat raw chicken?
Consuming raw or undercooked chicken can lead to food poisoning, stomach pains, nausea, and/or diarrhea (so not fun!)—thanks to bacteria often found in chicken that typically gets killed off during grilling, frying, or baking. So, you should always stress about cooking chicken to 100 percent doneness. Every. Single. Time.
The simplest solution to avoiding this gastro-nightmare is to always make sure your chicken is truly fully cooked. This means using a thermometer to check that your chicken clocks in at the FDA-recommended safe cooking temperature of 165°F.
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But you're not always the one doing the cooking. What happens if you go to a friend's house and bite into a piece of poultry only to discover it's an undercooked (or even raw!), fleshy pink inside that screams "don't eat me?" Do you immediately spit it out across the table? (Sorry, everyone.) Start chugging water to rinse your mouth? Run to the bathroom?
Before you start freaking out, see what gastroenterologists have to say about what to do if you eat raw chicken—and test kitchen pros for how to prevent yourself from consuming a raw breast or wing in the first place.
What happens if you eat raw chicken, really?
Is it safe to eat raw chicken? Simply put, no. You might get sick with food poisoning. And unless you're Emily Charlton from The Devil Wears Prada, those two dreaded words are enough to send chills up and down your spine.
"Raw chicken—as well as its juices—is often contaminated with with campylobacter bacteria and sometimes with salmonella and clostridium perfringens," says Jennifer L. Bonheur, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York City. There is also a small chance you can get Escherichia coli from raw chicken, "though, typically it's more common to get E. coli from undercooked beef and contaminated raw fruits or veggies," says Samantha Nazareth, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York and Women's Health Advisory Board member.
All of these foodborne pathogens can cause diarrhea usually in tandem with nausea and vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And, all it may take is one or two bites.
How long after eating raw chicken will you get sick?
In the case of campylobacter, symptoms don't typically start to present themselves until two to five days after exposure, while salmonella can start wreaking havoc in as little as six hours, per the CDC. Similarly, these infections vary in length, from 24 hours (clostridium perfringens) to a week (campylobacter). The incubation time for E. coli is most commonly three to four days.
Unfortunately, once you eat raw chicken, there's not much you can do about it. Chugging water or rinsing your mouth won't bring on any magical fixes. And forcing yourself to vomit? "That won't help either," Dr. Bonheur says.
What should you do if you get sick from raw chicken?
Well, you will immediately ban whatever establishment you previously ate at for ample time—yes, even if that means avoiding your mom's cooking for weeks.
To answer your question: You kind of, sort of just have to deal with the symphony of symptoms. There isn't really a magic pill or cure-all. "So, if you're having diarrhea, nausea, cramps—the usual food poisoning problems—start following a bland diet and stay well hydrated with water and electrolyte drinks until symptoms improve," Dr. Bonheur says.
Most food poisoning cases will last up to a week. If symptoms get worse or don't improve within a week, and/or you "have bloody diarrhea, develop a high fever (above 102 degrees), and are pregnant or immunocompromised, you should definitely speak to a doctor," says Dr. Nazareth. Starting to show signs of dehydration (think: dizziness, dry mouth, low BP, reduced urination)? Probably safe to give the doc a call then too. Some of these worsened symptoms like high fever and bloody stools might mean you have a more aggressive infection.
But that's not usually the case. "Most infections will resolve on their own," says Gina Sam, MD, MPH, gastroenterologist in New York City. "Only in rare cases does a patient require treatment with antibiotics."
What happens if you eat slightly undercooked chicken?
Whether it's raw or just seems slightly undercooked doesn't matter. Your safest bet is to return to the stove (grill, oven, etc.) to cook the poultry for longer if you're questioning its level of preparedness.
Sure, it might seem easier to just cut around any rawer areas and eat what looks well done than asking a chef or your BFF to cook your food for longer, but that's actually pretty risky.
"The entire piece of meat should be well cooked, as there can be contamination from adjacent undercooked segments of the meat that will still put you at risk for exposure to bacteria and foodborne illness," Dr. Bonheur says.
How can I make sure chicken is cooked all the way through?
Pay attention to the color of the meat and of the juices coming out of the chicken. A simple rule of thumb is that cooked chicken will be white in color and undercooked or raw chicken will be pinkish or even bloody. But don't be afraid to inspect even further.
Make a small cut into the thickest part of the poultry, and if it still appears pink or any blood is present, then the chicken is most likely raw, Dr. Sam and Dr. Bonheur say. And the same sort of idea applies with any fluids: if the juice is still pink-tinged, then throw it back in the pan.
But your safest best is to invest in a quality cooking thermometer. Insert that bad boy into the thickest section of the meat. If the thermometer reads 165°F, then the chicken should be well cooked and the heat should have sufficiently killed any bacteria that might have been present. So, you can confidently eat your chicken dinner in peace.
Trish (she/her) is the deputy food editor at Good Housekeeping, where she covers all things food, from cooking trends and delicious recipes to top-tested kitchen products and grocery finds. She has over a decade of experience writing about food for GH, Women’s Health, Prevention, Redbook, Woman’s Day, The Daily Meal and Food Network. When she’s not at the supermarket or trying out a new recipe, you can find her at the beach, in her backyard or on the couch — typically with a glass of wine in hand.