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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 enterocolitica while preparing chitlins. You can reduce the chance of getting sick by buying chitlins that are already cooked. You also can reduce the chance of spreading germs to children by buying already cooked chitlins and by washing your hands thoroughly before you touch children and things they may put in their mouth. If you prepare chitlins yourself, make sure to follow these tips:

Getting Ready


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

Family at table

Don’t serve chitlins until they are well cooked.

  • Keep children out of the kitchen while you prepare chitlins.
  • 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 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 serving. Don’t taste them 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 or cleaning up after preparing raw chitlins and before touching other food or touching children or their toys, bottles, or pacifiers.
  • Use a solution of 1/4 cup of unscented household chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of clean 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, and 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 and let them air dry or pat them dry with paper towels.
  • 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 baby

People can get sick from eating or touching raw or undercooked pork that is contaminated with the germ Yersinia enterocolitica. This bacteria causes 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 put in their mouths, such as toys, bottles, and pacifiers. Symptoms of yersiniosis can vary depending on the age of the sick person. 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.