Chitterlings are a traditional meal around the New Year’s holiday. Chitterlings, which are the intestines of pigs, may harbor bacteria called Yersinia enterocolitica that can cause yersiniosis, a diarrheal illness in humans. Yersiniosis peaks in winter and is most common and severe in children under four, with adults over 85 being the next most affected age group. Since chitterlings typically are enjoyed this time of year, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is offering tips to keep families safer from yersiniosis this winter.
“As with preparing any raw meat or poultry, cleaning and cooking chitterlings in household kitchens can create a messy environment in which bacteria can easily spread to kitchen counters, tables, utensils, and even baby bottles and pacifiers,” said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. “Young children are four times as likely as the general population to develop yersiniosis, while the elderly are twice as likely. People with compromised immune systems due to pregnancy or other conditions are also at higher risk for yersiniosis, so it is important that caregivers take extra steps to prevent this illness for the most vulnerable groups in our population.”
In addition to Yersinia enterocolitica, chitterlings also can be contaminated with other foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli. After chitterlings are thoroughly boiled and carefully prepared, the final product is not likely to be a risk for foodborne illness. The risk comes from the preparation process. Follow these tips for safely preparing chitterling dishes:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds before and after preparing chitterlings.
- Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item. Countertops, equipment, utensils, and cutting boards can be sanitized with a freshly prepared solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clean water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.
- Buy pre-cooked chitterlings if possible. If using raw ones, pre-boil them for five minutes before cleaning and cooking.
- Thaw chitterlings in their original packaging in the refrigerator. Wrap the package in plastic wrap before placing it in the refrigerator to prevent juices from leaking.
- Refrigerate and use raw chitterlings within two days after thawing. Use frozen chitterlings within three to four months for best quality.
- Keep children out of the kitchen when chitterlings are being prepared. Caregivers should find others to look after infants and small children to prevent cross-contamination and infections.
- Boil and simmer chitterlings until they are well cooked and tender before battering and frying.
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Cooked chitterlings can be stored for three to four days in the refrigerator or three to four months in the freezer.
Between 2006 and 2008, 0.4 cases of yersiniosis were reported per 100,000 people in the United States, while 1.8 cases per 100,000 children under age four were reported, and 0.8 cases per 100,000 people over 85 were reported.
FSIS’ “Yersiniosis and Chitterlings” fact sheet has more information on safely handling chitterlings and preventing foodborne illness and can be found at www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Yersiniosis_and_Chitterlings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides information about yersiniosis at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/yersinia_g.htm.