Today’s Boston Globe features a recipe for grilled chicken salad with pecans and cranberries.  I make variations of this recipe frequently, and was excited to see whether the Boston Globe recipe included any new ingredients that I could add to my mix.  I read through the ingredient list and didn’t find anything particularly inspiring that I haven’t already used before, but when I got to the instructions I was shocked to read the first one, which included the sentence, "When the grill is hot, cook the chicken breasts for 25 minutes, turning once, or until the juices run clear."

Cook until juices run clear used to be a standard instruction for poultry recipes before we learned that Salmonella is not just an egg problem, and that Salmonella can grow inside chickens.  When the juices from the piece of chicken you are cooking run clear, this is not an assurance that the chicken has reached a USDA-recommended 165 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry.

USDA’s press release on the minimum internal temperature to ensure the safety of cooked poultry includes the following information:

The single minimum internal temperature requirement of 165°F was recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF).

"The Committee was asked to determine a single minimum temperature for poultry at which consumers can be confident that pathogens and viruses will be destroyed," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond. "The recommendation is based on the best scientific data available and will serve as a foundation for our programs designed to reduce foodborne illness and protect public health."

Scientific research indicates that foodborne pathogens and viruses, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and the avian influenza virus, are destroyed when poultry is cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. FSIS recommends the use of a food thermometer to monitor internal temperature. In addition, consumers should follow important tips for handling raw poultry. These tips can be summarized in three words–clean, separate and chill. Clean means to wash hands and surfaces often; separate means to keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods; chill means to refrigerate or freeze foods promptly.

The only way to know whether your chicken is cooked to a hot enough temperature to ensure food safety is to use a thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature reaches 165.  Don’t rely on visual clues such as the juices running clear.