Over 60% of Chickens are Contaminated with Bacteria

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Consumer Reports has issued the results of their latest investigation of chicken safety, and the news is not good. In their latest analysis, over two thirds of fresh, whole broilers purchased in stores across the United States were infected with either salmonella or campylobacter bacteria, the leading causes of foodborne illness. The rate has improved since the magazine’s January 2007 report, when 80% of store-bought chickens were infected with bacterial pathogens.

Almost 400 chickens were purchased last spring from over 100 supermarkets, mass merchandisers, and natural food stores in 22 states. The top three name brands were tested, Foster Farms, Perdue, and Tyson, as well as 30 non-organic store brands. Some organic brands of poultry were also tested.

Campylobacter was present in 62% of the chickens and salmonella was found in 14%. Both bacteria were found simultaneously in 9% of the poultry tested. The most contaminated were from Tyson and Foster Farms, with more than 80% testing positive for one or both of the bacteria. Perdue’s chickens were found to be 56% free of pathogens.

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Organic brands were better overall, but not free of contamination. Store-brand organic chickens were not found to have salmonella, but about 57% of those labeled organic contained campylobacter. The most clean organic broilers were “air-chilled”, with only 40% found to have bacterial growth. These chickens are cooled in the slaughterhouse by refrigeration rather than dunked in a chlorinated cold-water bath shared by many other birds.

Each year, bacteria from poultry and other food sources infect 3.4 million Americans and cause about 500 deaths, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, both salmonella and campylobacter have become resistant to at least one antibiotic in recent years. Unlike salmonella, there is no current federal standard to check for campylobacter at the chicken processing site.

The National Chicken Council made a statement to CBS News: “Like all fresh foods, raw chicken may have some microorganisms present, but these are destroyed by the heat of normal cooking.” Shoppers and consumers of poultry are encouraged to be cognizant of safe cooking techniques to prevent food borne illness.

Ensure that raw chicken does not come into contact with any food that will not be cooked, such as in the grocery cart or bag during transport, the refrigerator during storage or on the cutting board during preparation. Use a food/meat thermometer to ensure that chicken is thoroughly cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember to use a separate, clean plate for the cooked product and do not reuse the platter that raw meat on which the raw meat was held. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking to prevent bacteria from contaminating cooked chicken.

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