I belong to almost all of Facebook’s emetophobia groups, and by far this is the most common question. Sometimes it’s chicken, and sometimes it’s other types of meat. There are also questions about how long something was out of the fridge, freezer, or how something should be cooked. These are legitimate concerns. A lot of what emetophobics worry about isn’t, and I seldom if ever address it. But undercooked chicken can definitely make you sick. It can happen within 1-2 hours, or as long as 24 hours. Other meats, like sausage, can make you ill, when undercooked, up to several days later.
Chicken is particularly tricky as it must be cooked thoroughly, but not allowed to dry out (74C for chicken parts; Beef only has to be seared on the outside, as various diseases such as e.coli are only on the outside of the beef, not the inside. But chicken can have salmonella all the way through the meat. Anything that’s been chopped up such as hamburger or sausage MUST be cooked to the proper internal temperature. There’s a trend in the United States to eat hamburgers “medium rare” which is all fine and dandy so long as the meat hasn’t been contaminated in the slaughterhouse or butcher shop. I travelled to Paris some years ago where the steak is served tar tar (raw) which sounds scary because you sure as heck don’t want to buy a steak in the United States and serve it raw. But in France, beef that is sold for tar tar has been carefully slaughtered and butchered so as not to contaminate it. In order to assure this, you have to slaughter cattle one at a time. In America (and Europe for regular beef) cattle are slaughtered on an assembly line that resembles the making of an automobile. If you were ever to visit such a place, you’d be a vegetarian for life. Well, ok. I have and I did and I was, but I was only vegetarian for about 8 years until the slaughterhouse faded from my memory.
Pork is its own thing – at one time it had to be cooked to 71C/160F. You’re unlikely to get salmonella or e.coli. from pork, but there used to be certain parasite larvae within the meat that will attach to your intestines after which the parasites will migrate to skeletal muscle, but sometimes to heart, lungs or brain. Pig farming has come a long way, however. Yes, pigs are kept in small enclosures like most chickens and dairy cows. But unlike the latter, pigs are housed on concrete slats washed down several times a day. Humans must sanitize and wear clean overalls to even enter the “barns.” So they’re not digging up and eating dirt, rats or garbage anymore. The chance of parasites is virtually nil. If you keep your own pig in your own pigpen and feed him leftovers, then when you cook him, cook him to 71C/160F. If you buy your pork at the grocery store, it is now safe to cook it to anywhere between 63C/145F and the previous 71C/160F. The same parasite once found in pork IS present in wild game such as bear, wild boar, horse, dogs and several more.
The thing to keep in mind is that you can’t tell if any meat (or anything else) is cooked properly without a food thermometer such as the one through the link on Amazon, above. They’re inexpensive and easy to use. You want to make sure you get a digital one. The other thing you need is a proper chart to tell you what temperature each type of food should be cooked to. There’s nothing worse than eating dry or rubbery chicken because you’ve cooked the living hell out of it just to make sure. It’s so simple – just insert the thermometer and ensure your meat hits the minimum temp.
If someone else cooked your meat, at home and not at a restaurant, you may need to be more careful. I’ve been to many a barbecue in my day where hamburgers were served raw in the middle. If possible, go for a steak (always ok if seared on a barbeque) or a hot dog. Never give a child a homemade hamburger without cutting it in half and ensuring the centre has no pink at all. This is one time when you can tell if it’s cooked by looking at it. Perhaps better to tell your host you’re vegetarian and bring your own veggie burger patty to the barbeque. That’s what I started doing after a while. My husband always threw all caution to the wind, would eat the garbage if I fried it up, only started handwashing during Covid, and never vomited for 32 years (that was after drinking a few wee drams of Cape Breton whiskey 8 years ago. He’s now labeled the box “for cleaning bicycle chains”).
Restaurant food is far safer. Perhaps I’m speaking as a Canadian who owned a restaurant at one time. It was actually a bakery, but we served breakfast and lunch sandwiches and soups. We also made our own pastry cream and other cake fillings. The health inspector was strict and brutal. We needed to take a “FoodSafe” course first, to even get a license. Then she showed up at any time (usually the worst, busiest time) to do surprise inspections. We always got a “low risk” inspection review and rating, which was the best you could get. I was grateful for my history of emetophobia as I’d committed most of the food-safe facts to memory long before! I am not familiar with the health regulations in the United States although a little internet exploring and I came up with this January 12, 2021 blog which seems to imply that the regulations are exactly the same, but restauranteurs are not necessarily required to take a FoodSafe equivalent course. These regulations may have changed by the time you’re reading this.