Preparing Chitlins Safely

Woman in kitchen

Chitlins are a traditional Southern food served during winter holidays. If you’re getting ready to cook chitlins, sometimes called chitterlings, it’s important to handle and cook these pork intestines the right way.

If certain steps are not followed during preparation, harmful germs in the raw pork intestines can infect people. Young children are the most likely to get sick, so you should take special care to keep them safe when preparing chitlins.

Practice Safety When Preparing Chitlins

You can contact harmful germs like Yersinia while preparing chitlins.  To reduce the chance of getting sick or spreading germs to children, buy chitlins that are already cooked. While preparing raw chitlins, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you touch children and things they may touch or put in their mouths. If you decide to prepare chitlins yourself, make sure to follow these tips:

Before you begin, take out everything you’ll need to prepare chitlins and to clean up when you’re done.

Getting Ready to Prepare Chitlins

  • Keep children out of the kitchen.
  • Ask someone else to watch children, especially infants, so you don’t accidently spread germs from the chitlins to them.
  • Before you begin, take out everything you’ll need to prepare the chitlins and to clean up when you’re done—chopping boards, knives and other utensils, pots and pans, measuring cups and spoons, ingredients and seasonings, bleach solution, paper towels—so your hands don’t spread germs around the kitchen.

Preparing Chitlins

  • Buy already cooked or pre-cooked chitlins when possible because they should be safer to handle.
  • Freeze raw chitlins unless you plan to clean and cook them within 2 days.
  • Thaw raw frozen chitlins in the refrigerator in a completely covered bowl or bucket to prevent drips that can contaminate the refrigerator and any food or containers in it. Cook raw chitlins within 2 days after thawing them.
  • Boil raw chitlins in water for at least 5 minutes before cleaning to reduce germs that may get on your hands, counter, and utensils while you are cleaning the chitlins.
  • Boil and simmer chitlins until well cooked and tender before frying or serving. Don’t taste them until they are well cooked.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours (or within 1 hour if the temperature outside is higher than 90°F).

Family around a table
Don’t serve chitlins until they are well cooked.

Cleaning Up

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running warm water for at least 20 seconds:
    • After preparing raw chitlins
    • After cleaning up
    • Before touching other food
    • Before touching children or their toys, bottles, or pacifiers.
  • Use a solution of 1/4 cup of household chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water to kill germs on anything that may have been touched by your hands, raw chitlins, or their juice.
    • This may include:
      • Chopping boards, knives and other utensils
      • Refrigerator, including shelves, doors, and handles
      • Countertop
      • Stovetop, including knobs and switches
      • Cabinets and drawers and their handles
      • Dishwasher front
      • Sink, including the basin, drain, handles, and spout
      • Floor
      • Light switches
    • Wash pots, pans, lids, buckets, knives and other utensils on the hot cycle of the dishwasher or by hand in hot, soapy water.
    • After flooding or spraying these items thoroughly with the bleach solution, let the solution stand for several minutes. Then, rinse the items with plain water.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean so any germs that get on them are thrown away. If you use cloth towels, wash them in the washing machine using hot water.
Could Somebody Be Sick?
Young boy holding a baby

People can get sick from eating or touching raw or undercooked pork that is contaminated with the germ Yersinia. These bacteria cause a disease called yersiniosis. Young children are more likely to get sick with yersiniosis if people preparing chitlins don’t wash their hands carefully before touching children or items that children touch or put in their mouths, such as toys, bottles, and pacifiers. Symptoms of yersiniosis can vary by age. Common symptoms in young children are:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea that may be bloody

Symptoms usually develop 4 to 7 days after contact with the bacteria and usually last 1 to 3 weeks, sometimes longer. Older children and adults may have pain on the right side of the abdomen that can be confused with appendicitis.

Page last reviewed: December 14, 2018