Preparing Chitlins Safely

Close up of woman in the 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.

Harmful germs in the raw pork intestines can make people sick unless you follow certain steps when you prepare them. 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 come in contact with harmful germs like Yersinia bacteria while preparing chitlins. To reduce the chance of getting sick or spreading germs to children, buy chitlins that are already cooked.

If you choose to prepare raw chitlins, you can take steps to protect children and other people in your house from germs that can spread around the kitchen and to people. The most important step in preventing infection is handwashing. While preparing raw chitlins, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you touch children and things they may touch or put in their mouth, including toys, pacifiers, bottles, and food. You’ll need to take other actions, too, to prevent spreading germs from raw chitlins.   

Follow these tips when making chitlins:

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, and paper towels. Having everything ready ahead of time will help prevent the spread of germs from your hands while you’re working around the kitchen.
  • Store food, spices, and baby bottles away from places in your kitchen that may come in contact with raw chitlins or their drippings. This will prevent germs from raw meat spreading around your kitchen and contaminating other foods or surfaces.

Close up Image of Chitlins

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

Preparing Chitlins

  • Buy already cooked or pre-cooked chitlins, when possible, because they should be safer to handle.
  • If you will prepare raw chitlins, freeze them unless you plan to clean and cook them within 2 days.
  • Thaw frozen raw chitlins in the refrigerator in a completely covered bowl or bucket to prevent drips. Drips can contaminate your 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. This will 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. Do not 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).

close up of a family at the dinner 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, pacifiers, bottles, or food
  • Wash chopping boards, pots, pans, lids, buckets, knives, and other utensils on the hot cycle of the dishwasher or by hand in hot, soapy water.
  • 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. These items may include:
    • Chopping boards, pots, pans, lids, buckets, knives, and other utensils that weren’t washed in a dishwasher on the hot cycle
    • 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

Cover the items with the bleach solution by soaking them, spraying them thoroughly, or applying the solution with a cloth. Let the solution stay on the surface for several minutes. Then, rinse the items with plain water.

  • Consider cleaning with paper towels so you can throw away any germs that get on them. If you use cloth towels, wash them in the washing machine using hot water.
Could Somebody Be Sick?

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, pacifiers, bottles, and food. 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.

Close up of a mother holding her sick infant