Air-chilling, which has been common poultry practice in the United Kingdom for decades, is now making its way into the United States — and we need to be paying attention. The process not only makes chicken meat more flavorful and juicy after cooking, but it also protects against foodborne illnesses like salmonella.
Salmonella is a nasty affliction, and not something to mess around with. Chicken is on the list of foods most likely to cause it — but hopefully, this swap will help protect us all.
The process itself is simple. While usual food practices entail chilling chicken in water to ensure product safety and inhibit bacteria growth, air-chilling entails (you guessed it) chilling chicken in cool air.
When chicken is cooled by submerging it in water, the juices of the chicken seep out and the bland water seeps in. It’s a quicker method of cooling, sure (air-chilling can take hours, as opposed to just minutes in water), but it’s a caustic one. Not only do the juices seep out of the chicken and into the swill water, but contaminants can seep out, too. The water-chilling chamber becomes a large bathtub of potential infection if something goes wrong — and your purified chickens are potentially being bathed with bacteria from the neighboring flock.
Whole Foods, Costco, Publix, and many butchers sell their chicken air-chilled, if you search carefully enough. It’s not even that expensive (though there is a slight upcharge) and could potentially be part of a healthy grocery cart for under $50.