Poultry liver dishes are generally safe as long as they are prepared correctly. Foodborne illness outbreaks in Australia and overseas have been linked to poultry liver dishes such as pâté or parfait where the liver was undercooked.
Just like any other poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey or duck) meat, livers need to be cooked all the way through to kill harmful microorganisms (particularly Campylobacter) that may be present. Lightly searing the surface is not enough.
In surveys of raw chicken meat in Australia, Campylobacter was found in 84 per cent of samples tested. Studies in New Zealand (pdf 600 kb) have also shown that livers and other offal are often contaminated on the surface and internally.
It's also important to handle livers in a way that avoids cross-contamination (of ready-to-eat food, utensils, etc.)
How to cook poultry liver dishes safely
There are many different ways to make poultry liver pâté and similar dishes, including frying, oven baking or simmering the livers in a water bath. In all cases, the livers need to be cooked so that any microorganisms present are killed.
Whole livers need to be cooked to an internal temperature (measured using a digital probe thermometer) of 70°C for at least two minutes. They may still be slightly pink in the centre, but they should never be bloody or look raw.
Cooked to safe internal temperature
Undercooked – still bloody and looks raw in the centre
The safest way to prepare pâté is to follow recipes that require baking the whole dish in an oven or water bath, often at temperatures above 150°C for up to two hours. These methods should allow the livers to reach internal temperatures that would kill Campylobacter.
Food Safety Information Council
Agents of Foodborne Illness