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If You Just Ate A Piece Of Raw Chicken, You Might Start Barfing In The Next 6 Hours

Diced chicken meat
I Ate Raw Chicken. Now What? FotografiaBasica - Getty Images

You can order a medium-rare steak at a restaurant, enjoy citrusy ceviche on the beach, try a bite of beef carpaccio or tartar in Paris, and eat sushi, sashimi, and poke bowls, galore. But raw chicken? Now that is always a hard, haaard pass. Although you may instinctively know this, what comes after is a bit of a mystery. It's natural to wonder, What happens if I eat raw chicken?

The short answer? 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 the cooking process (grilling, frying, or baking). So, you should always stress about cooking chicken to 100 percent doneness. Every. Single. Time.

The simplest way to steer clear of this gastro-nightmare is to always make sure your chicken is fully cooked through. This means using a thermometer to check that your chicken clocks in at the FDA-recommended safe cooking temperature of 165°F.

Meet the Experts: Jennifer L Bonheur is a board-certified gastroenterologist in New York City. In addition to working at her private practice, she’s an attending physician at both NYU Langone Medical Center and Lenox Hill Hospital. Samantha Nazareth is double board-certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology/Hepatology. She practices in New York City and is a Women's Health Advisory Board member.

But the tricky part is that you're not always the one doing the cooking. What happens if you're eating out or you go to a friend's house? You bite into your chicken breast or thigh only to discover it's an undercooked (or even raw!) with a fleshy pink inside that screams "don't eat me." Now what? Do you immediately spit it out across the table? (Sorry, everyone.) Start chugging water to rinse your mouth? Take some sort of medicine? Make a beeline to urgent care?!

I caught up with gastroenterologists to get the full low-down on what to do if you ever find yourself in this scenario, having accidentally eaten raw chicken meat. Then, WH test kitchen pros weighed in with tips on 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? In short, 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 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.

All of these foodborne pathogens can cause diarrhea usually alongside 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?

Let's talk timing. 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 upwards of 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 can you do if you've eaten raw chicken but aren't sick yet?

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?

First things first, immediately ban whatever establishment or home you previously ate at for ample time—and yes, even if that means avoiding your mom's cooking for weeks. (Sorry, mom!)

Back to the question: No one wants to say it, but 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. That said, if symptoms don't improve or worsen 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 blood pressure, reduced urination)? Err on the safe side and give the doc a call. 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.

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 rather 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?

The trick is to pay attention to two things: the color of the meat and 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, says Dr. Bonheur. And the same sort of idea applies with any fluids: if the juice is still pink-tinged, then toss 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 to check the internal temperature. The magic number is 165 (talking degrees Fahrenheit, here), in which case the chicken should be fully cooked and the heat should have sufficiently killed any bacteria that might have been present.

How can I avoid cross-contamination while cooking?

Eating raw or undercooked chicken is one thing, but remember—food safety extends to the cooking process as well. To avoid cross-contamination, consider using one cutting board for fresh produce, fruit, and bread, while reserving another for raw meat. And be sure to clean thoroughly after each use by washing with hot, soapy water, rinsing with clean water, then either air drying or patting dry with clean towels. And be sure to clean and sanitize your countertops as well.

Paying close attention during the cooking, eating, and cleaning process will ensure you can confidently enjoy your chicken dinner in peace. Lemon-Thyme Chicken, anyone?

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