When you see red spots on raw chicken, is that a bad sign? Or can you cook and eat the chicken as you normally would? As is often the case, the answer comes down to a matter of personal preference. Read on to learn more.
Red Spots on Raw Chicken
Sometimes, there will be blood spots left behind on raw chicken after the meat is processed for packaging. This is usually due to substandard storage and handling practices, but the spots aren’t dangerous. You can attempt to remove them by soaking the meat in ice water, or just running it under a cold faucet for a minute or two.
What Causes Red Spots on Raw Chicken?
If you notice red spots on your raw chicken after taking it out of the package, you’ll probably be a bit put off. They don’t look all that appetizing, that’s for sure. But in fact, while they’re unattractive, these red spots aren’t anything to worry about.
As you may have guessed, those red spots are actually flecks of blood. Since that chicken was once a living thing, it stands to reason that there was blood involved at some point. We’re just not accustomed to seeing it on meat that’s been packaged for sale.
Why Would There Be Blood Spots on the Chicken?
The reason why you don’t always see red spots on raw chicken is because the blood is usually released during processing.
On the other hand, if the meat was handled or processed poorly, there may still be some blood spots remaining. This happens if the chicken wasn’t cleaned properly, or if the storage practices weren’t quite up to par.
When the chicken is exposed to cold air, any imperfections on the flesh are thrown into sharper relief. So if there were any blood spots on the meat to begin with, they’ll be even more visible after the meat is chilled.
Is The Chicken Still Safe to Eat?
Yes. A piece of chicken that has blood spots on it will still be safe to consume—assuming you follow the protocol for food safety. For more information, see Tips for Storage and Handling, below.
What About Red Spots on Live Chickens?
Now, if you see red spots on a live chicken, it likely means that the flesh is infected by parasites. Mites, fleas, ticks, and lice can all leave these red marks in their wake.
Fortunately, this isn’t something you need to worry about unless you raise your own birds for slaughter. But it’s a good idea to be aware of it, especially if you buy your poultry from a local farm. When you tour the facility, take a good look at the birds to make sure they appear healthy.
Will The Blood Spots Go Away?
You can cook the chicken as is, and the blood spots won’t do any harm. They’ll turn a darker color as the meat cooks, but they’re still edible.
If you’re really turned off by the sight of the red spots, you can attempt to remove them yourself by running the chicken under cold water for a few minutes. We don’t typically advocate this practice, as it can spread bacteria around your sink, but it’s an option.
Alternatively, you can set the raw chicken in a large bowl made of a nonreactive material, then fill the bowl with ice water. Let it soak for 30 minutes, then drain and pat the pieces dry with paper towels. The blood spots should have disappeared.
Again, we’re not huge fans of this technique, mainly because we don’t want our chicken to become waterlogged. However, if you want to get rid of the red spots, this might be the most practical and sanitary way to go about it.
Depending on the size and location of the blood spots, you might also be able to carve them away using a small, sharp knife. Just be careful not to completely demolish the chicken in the process.
Why Are There Red Veins in My Cooked Chicken?
Here’s another phenomenon that can be disturbing at first: the sight of red veins in the chicken. This is most common with bone-in cuts, but it’s not a cause for concern.
As the chicken cooks, the proteins in the veins may react to the heat. That makes the veins more visible, especially close to the bone. But as long as you’ve cooked the meat to a safe temperature (see below), it will still be safe to eat.
Cooking Chicken to a Safe Temperature
Whether you’ve opted to remove the blood spots or leave them be, it’s essential to cook the chicken to a safe internal temperature. In fact, you’ll want to do this even if there were no blood spots in the first place.
Poultry products, including chicken, need to cook to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Any potential bacteria that might be contaminating the surface will be wiped out at this temperature.
It’s true that lower temperatures are sufficient to kill the bacteria, but it takes a lot longer. At 165 degrees, they’ll die off in just a few seconds, so you can enjoy the chicken without worrying.
165 degrees is the ideal serving temperature for chicken breast. But since the meat will continue to cook as it rests, we recommend taking it off the heat when it hits 160 degrees. Then set it aside, loosely tented with foil, to finish cooking.
If you’re preparing chicken thighs, drumsticks, or whole leg quarters, you’ll want to let them cook to 180 degrees before you let them rest. The dark meat has a superior texture when it’s allowed to cook a bit longer.
This distinction is important because the breast meat will be too dry if it cooks past 165 degrees. Thighs and drumsticks, meanwhile, can be tough to chew when they only cook to the minimum recommended temp.
It can be a challenge to nail the optimum internal temps for both the breasts and the thighs when cooking whole chickens. If the breast finishes cooking before the dark meat is ready, consider carving it off and returning the rest of the bird to the heat.
Tips for Storage and Handling
As important as it is to cook the meat to the right temperature, there are a few other safety practices to keep in mind.
First of all, keep the chicken refrigerated at 33 to 38 degrees until you’re ready to prepare it. The meat should never be kept at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. If it’s spent time in a hot car, it needs to be refrigerated within 1 hour.
One caveat: Try to remove the chicken from the fridge for about half an hour before you start to cook it. By bringing it to room temperature, you’re helping the meat to cook more evenly—and ensuring crispier skin, if that’s applicable.
When preparing skin-on cuts like whole chickens and drumsticks, keep them uncovered in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The exposure to the cool air will dry out the skin, which helps it crisp up even more.
Cook raw chicken within 2 days of bringing it home. It’s preferable to cook it off the day you bring it home, or the day after if you want to use a brine or marinade—or leave it uncovered overnight, as we’ve just suggested. But it may start to go downhill after a couple of days.
Don’t be tempted to marinate chicken for too long. Past a certain point, the tenderizing ingredients in the marinade will start to have a reverse effect, toughening the meat. You also want to keep the brining process fairly short, or the chicken may turn spongy.
Always wash your hands both before and after handling raw meat products. Don’t reuse any plates, cutting boards, or utensils that have come into contact with the raw chicken without washing them first.
After you’ve cooked the meat to the ideal internal temperature, refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours. Bacteria thrive at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees, so it’s not safe to leave the chicken out overnight.
Remember to freeze any leftovers that you won’t be consuming right away. Cooked chicken should maintain its quality for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge, but you’re rolling the dice after that.
Store cooked chicken in the freezer for no longer than 3 months, or it will be too dry when it’s time to reheat it. There’s no need to thaw it before heating it up, but doing so will make the job go much more quickly.
Speaking of which, if you’ve frozen the chicken before cooking it off, it’s best to thaw it in the refrigerator. This will ensure that the meat remains at a safe temperature for the duration of the defrosting process.
You don’t have to defrost the chicken before cooking it. However, meat that’s cooked from a frozen state will take longer to reach the safe serving temperature. Since it will still be frozen in patches while the rest is heating up, it will also cook less evenly.
Red spots on raw chicken can be visually alarming, but they’re not anything to get worked up over. If they bother you, you should be able to remove them. Otherwise, know that they’ll be much less noticeable once the meat is cooked.