Caution in Preparing Chitterlings
If you, like many Georgians, enjoy chitterlings (also called chitlins) at holiday time, you know that cooked chitterlings are safe to eat - but you may not know that bacteria from raw chitterlings can cause severe diarrhea, especially in infants. Every year in Georgia, children get sick in homes where chitterlings are prepared, even if they didn't actually eat them.
"Although most people know that chitterlings must be carefully cleaned, few realize that the bacteria from raw chitterlings can cause illness by spreading to other foods, baby bottles, pacifiers and toys. Infants and small children are at greatest risk of becoming infected," warns Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) Division of Public Health. "You can prevent this very easily by boiling the chitterlings for five minutes before you clean them, and then washing everything that touched the chitterlings while they were raw."
Raw chitterlings may contain bacteria such as Salmonella or Yersinia. Unlike most bacteria, Yersinia survives cold temperatures and can grow inside the refrigerator. Even those chitterlings sold as "pre-cleaned" need more rinsing and cleaning at home before they are cooked. While raw chitterlings are being cleaned, bacteria can easily spread to refrigerators, sinks, counter tops, cooking utensils and other foods, either directly or from the hands of the person who is cleaning the chitterlings. Touching a baby bottle, pacifier, or toy while preparing the chitterlings can spread the bacteria to infants and children.
Infection with bacteria from raw chitterlings can cause a disease called enterocolitis, whose symptoms are fever, appendicitis-like stomach pain, and bloody diarrhea. Infants and children with enterocolitis can become severely dehydrated and may need to be hospitalized. The symptoms usually begin three to seven days after contact with the bacteria.
In November DHR's Division of Public Health launched an education program with the Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Network. Flyers with information about safe chitterling preparation are being distributed statewide through the Georgia Area Health Education Centers.
5 Steps to Keep Your Family From Getting Sick!
- Put raw un-cleaned chitterlings directly from container into boiling water for 5 minutes to kill germs. Boiling makes them easier to clean and will not change the taste.
- Wash your hands after touching raw chitterlings.
- Clean everything in the kitchen that raw chitterlings may have touched. Use 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water to kill germs.
- After boiling chitterlings, washing hands and cleaning surfaces, clean your kitchen.
- Cook cleaned chitterlings as usual and enjoy!