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Raw chicken contains harmful bacteria. Eating raw chicken, even in tiny amounts, can cause symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.

If a person does not handle or cook chicken properly, it can cause unpleasant illnesses.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that people cook all poultry until it has an internal temperature of at least 165°F. This high temperature will kill any harmful bacteria.

In this article, we look at what happens if a person eats raw or undercooked chicken, how to treat any resulting illnesses, and how to handle raw chicken safely.

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Eating raw chicken may cause food poisoning.

Raw poultry meat can contain several different types of bacteria, including:

Even consuming the juices from raw chicken can result in food poisoning.

Campylobacter

Campylobacter bacteria cause a Campylobacter infection, or campylobacteriosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that Campylobacter infections affect up to 1.5 million people in the United States every year.

Symptoms include:

  • diarrhea, which may be bloody and result in dehydration
  • fever
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting

According to the CDC, these symptoms usually start 2–5 days after eating infected meat and last up to 1 week.

In 2015, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System found that 24% of store-bought chicken meat contained Campylobacter bacteria.

These harmful bacteria can also spread to foods that people typically eat raw, such as fruit and salad. This transmission can occur if people prepare other foods using the same chopping board and utensils that they used to prepare the chicken.

Salmonella

Salmonella bacteria cause salmonellosis.

According to the CDC, Salmonella bacteria are responsible for 1.35 million infections in the U.S. every year, along with 26,500 hospitalizations.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea, which can be bloody
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headaches

The CDC note that it can take between 6 hours and 6 days for a person to start experiencing the symptoms, which will typically last 4–7 days.

Clostridium perfringens

This infection typically occurs when a person cooks meat and keeps it warm for a long time before eating it. However, the bacteria also appear on raw chicken.

Symptoms typically include diarrhea and abdominal cramps. People do not usually experience fever or vomiting.

A Clostridium perfringens infection most commonly produces symptoms within 8–12 hours and lasts for less than 24 hours.

Typically, people who get a foodborne illness recover and do not suffer any long-term health problems. For some people, though, foodborne illness can lead to more serious complications and even hospitalization.

Possible complications include:

A person with GBS might experience numbness, muscle weakness, pain, and problems with balance and coordination.

The CDC estimate that Campylobacter infection causes about 40% of GBS cases.

If a person thinks that they have eaten raw or undercooked chicken, they should wait and see whether symptoms of foodborne illness develop.

It is not advisable to try to induce vomiting, as this may cause unnecessary harm to the gut.

According to Poison Control, if a person develops food poisoning, they should ensure that they remain hydrated. If the individual is unable to keep fluids down, they should seek medical help.

If a person is experiencing bloody diarrhea, they should see a doctor.

People in higher risk categories might need antibiotic treatment. Those who may be at higher risk of severe illness if they develop food poisoning include:

  • people over the age of 65 years
  • pregnant women
  • infants and children under the age of 5 years
  • those with a weakened immune system

Typically, any symptoms of illness after eating raw chicken will resolve without the need for medical treatment.

However, people should ensure that they drink plenty of fluids, especially if they experience vomiting or diarrhea. To replace fluids and electrolytes, a person can drink:

  • water
  • diluted fruit juice
  • sports drinks
  • clear broths
  • oral rehydration solutions

A person can use over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms. These include loperamide (Imodium), which can help ease diarrhea, and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), which can reduce diarrhea and nausea.

Anyone recovering from a foodborne illness should stay at home and get plenty of rest.

A person should seek medical help if they are unable to retain fluids. They should also seek help if they are pregnant, over 65 years of age, or have a weakened immune system. Parents or caregivers should also take children younger than 5 years to see a doctor.

Otherwise, if symptoms last for more than a few days, it might be worth seeing a doctor.

Other symptoms for which a person should seek medical help are:

  • bloody stools
  • high fever over 102°F
  • vomiting so frequently that it is not possible to replace fluids
  • little or no urination
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea lasting more than 3 days

The best way to avoid getting a foodborne illness from meat is to cook it well enough to destroy all harmful bacteria.

During cooking, chicken meat changes color from pink to white, and its texture changes, too. People should avoid eating pink chicken meat, as it may be undercooked and is likely to contain bacteria.

A person can also use a clean meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. It is important to cook raw chicken until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

When cooking a whole chicken, a person can pierce the thickest part of the leg — which is between the drumstick and the thigh — to check the temperature of the meat, ensuring that they do not allow the meat thermometer to touch the bone, fat, or gristle.

They can also check that the meat is white. The juices from a properly cooked chicken will be clear and not cloudy.

A person can purchase a meat thermometer online here.

Cooking chicken thoroughly and being careful about food preparation is the best way to avoid foodborne infection.

It is not only eating raw chicken that can cause illness but also improper handling and preparation.

People can prevent cross-contamination by:

  • storing raw meat on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator and wrapping it in a plastic bag to prevent juices escaping
  • washing the hands thoroughly before and after handling raw chicken
  • refraining from washing chicken before preparing it, to avoid spraying surfaces with bacteria
  • cleaning all utensils, chopping boards, and work surfaces thoroughly after preparing raw chicken
  • using a designated chopping board for raw chicken
  • using a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the chicken is at least 165°F
  • avoiding placing cooked food or fresh produce on any uncleaned surface that has held raw chicken
  • refrigerating leftover chicken within 2 hours, once it has cooled
  • sending meat back in a restaurant if it appears undercooked

According to the FDA, a person’s refrigerator should be at or below 40°F (4°C), and the freezer should be at 0°F (-18°C).

A person can purchase a refrigerator thermometer online here.

Eating raw or undercooked chicken can be harmful.

A person should seek medical help if they are at a higher risk of developing complications or are unable to retain fluids.

With proper handling and cooking, chicken is a safe food to eat and enjoy.

Anyone experiencing a foodborne illness should get plenty of rest, sip fluids regularly, and seek medical help if symptoms persist for more than a few days.