The color of poultry

Color is not a reliable measure of the quality or the doneness of poultry. Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to be sure the poultry you are serving is safe to eat.

Many cooks rely on the appearance of poultry to determine its quality and safety when preparing it for their family and guests. However, color is not a reliable measure of the quality or the doneness of the product. Poultry may be completely cooked and still retain a pinkish or even dark red color, or it may be tan and have not reached a safe internal temperature. Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to be sure the bird you are serving your friends and family is safe to eat.

When the bird is cooked, the darkening of the bones and meat around the bones occurs primarily in young broiler-fryer chickens. The bones have not calcified or hardened completely causing the pigment from the bone marrow to seep through the bones and into the surrounding meat. Freezing can also contribute to this darkening. This dark reddish color is not an indication that the meat is under cooked or unsafe to eat. The meat is safe to eat when all parts have reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as properly measured with a food thermometer.

Safely cooked poultry can also vary in color from white to pink to tan. For safety when cooking poultry, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. For a whole chicken or turkey, check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. All the meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured with a food thermometer. For individual pieces of bone or boneless poultry, be sure to insert the thermometer far enough to get an accurate reading. That may mean inserting the thermometer into the side of the piece. Avoid touching the bone with the thermometer, as this may impact an accurate temperature reading.

Chemical changes that occur during cooking can cause some cooked poultry to have a pinkish color. Oven gases in a heated oven can react chemically with hemoglobin inside the meat tissues to give it this pink tinge. Often, meat of younger birds shows the most pink because their thinner skins permit oven gases to reach the flesh more easily. Older animals are also more likely to have a fat layer under their skin that gives the meat added protection from the gases.

Poultry grilled or smoked outdoors can be pink, even when all parts have reached temperatures well above 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer. There may be a pink-colored rim about one-half inch wide around the outside of the cooked product. Commercially prepared, smoked poultry is usually pink because it is prepared with natural smoke and liquid smoke flavor.

For the answers to many more questions about food safety and meat or poultry, check out the United State Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service fact sheet entitled Safe Food Handling: the color of meat and poultry or contact a food safety educator with Michigan State University Extension.

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources