What's not to like about chicken on a pizza? It's flavorful, versatile and affordable, and many see it as a more healthful alternative to other meat toppings.
Happy Joe's Pizza & Ice Cream franchisee Heather Drake likes all those attributes, but the fact that she can buy chicken products fully prepared arguably is a bigger plus.
Without question, the sanitation advantages of fully prepared poultry products are a boon to operators. On raw foods, bacteria double in number every 12 hours at 36 F, every six hours at 40 F and every hour at 70 F. On a single square centimeter of raw chicken, 360 bacteria will become 23.6 million bacteria after four days at 40 F — a temperature easily reached inside a high-traffic walk-in.
And the food isn't even out of the refrigerator yet. Ensuring that raw product is prepped with sanitary knives on clean cutting boards and countertops is a challenge many operators want to avoid. To some, frozen and/or precooked foods are safe.
"You're always going to have a much safer product if it's precooked," said Mike Lazarus, director of marketing and sales support for Chicago-based Koch Foods. The company supplies a broad line of precooked frozen poultry products to the foodservice industry. "Any time you can reduce the chance of cross-contamination and food poisoning, it's something to look into."
Mark Negro, co-owner of Mangia Chicago Stuffed Pizza in Austin, Texas, said his company uses fresh chicken to give "our customers more of a choice and ... to reach a different demographic." But he said the staff does so with great care. In kitchens, fresh chicken is stored away from other perishables and cooks use gloves when handling it.
Safety concerns shouldn't be the only reason to look into prepared, frozen products. Flavor, of course, should play a prime role.
Many pizza operators buy preseasoned, pregrilled chicken strips and use them not only for toppings, but on salads and sandwiches. Drake buys premarinated strips for her pizzas. Having them prepared by a manufacturer, she added, ensures consistency.
"People can expect the same thing every time they order a fajita pizza, whether it's from Happy Joe's in Bettendorf or Freeport," she said. "You can't guarantee that if you have differing people doing it all the time."
Tony Palombino, franchisor of two-unit Tony Boombozz Pizza and Panini uses precooked chicken strips (later marinated in his stores) for the company's Chicken Fajita Pizza. The pie claimed first prize at the Pizza Festiva contest held at the 2005 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.
"Not only is almost anything Mexican popular, I think people love it because of the added flavor" the marinade gives it, Palombino said. "It's become one of our best sellers."