Preparing Chitterlings for the Holidays
By Maribel Alonso, Bilingual Information Specialist, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
For some people, chitterlings are a reminder of home, family, culture, and holidays -- and either you really love them or you don’t. Chitterlings are the small intestines of a hog and are especially popular in the southern United States.
If you’ve never eaten chitterlings (more commonly called “chitlins”), they have a texture similar to calimari (squid) and a pungent odor while being boiled. After lengthy boiling, chitterlings sometimes are battered and fried and commonly are served with cider vinegar and hot sauce as condiments.
Care must be taken when preparing chitterlings because they can be contaminated with the bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica and other foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli. Yersinia is a bacterium found in intestine of the pigs and that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. Infections caused by these bacteria are called yersiniosis.
When raw pig intestines are cleaned and cooked in household kitchens, it creates a messy environment in which cross contamination with Yersinia can occur. This harmful bacteria can be spread to kitchen counters, tables, utensils, and even baby bottles and pacifiers. 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 steps to reduce the risk of food illnesses from chitterlings:
- Thaw chitterlings in the refrigerator. Wrap the container of raw chitterlings in plastic wrap before placing it in the refrigerator or set it on a plate or tray.
- You can buy precooked chitterlings, but if you prefer using raw chitterlings, preboil them for 5 minutes before cleaning and cooking. This will kill any harmful bacteria without changing the flavor.
- Thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds before and after the preparation of chitterlings.
- Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
- Sanitize countertops, equipment, utensils, and cutting boards with a freshly prepared solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.
- Keep children out of the kitchen when chitterlings are being prepared.
- Boil and simmer chitterlings until are well cooked and tender.
Symptoms from yersiniosis can include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, fever, and vomiting. Call your doctor if you think you have a foodborne illness.
For more information, check out these resources:
- Fact sheet: Yersiniosis and Chitterlings: Tips to Protect You and Those You Care For From Foodborne Illness
- Podcast: Chitterlings and Yersiniosis
If you have questions about preparing chitterlings or any other holiday food, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.